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Britain Hit by Increase in Crime - 2002-01-12

The streets of Britain are becoming more dangerous. The media report almost every day on theft victims who are shot, stabbed or beaten.

Across Britain these days, local hospitals have been treating the latest victims of street crime.

In London, a 19-year-old girl is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. She was shot on New Year's Day by assailants who stole her cellular phone.

In the southwestern county of Somerset, an elderly pensioner is being treated for a heart attack she suffered when muggers stole her shopping bag.

In the northern city of Halifax, a 31-year-old man died in a hospital on New Year's Day after two car thieves stabbed him.

These and other crimes have grabbed headlines recently, raising new concerns about how to deal with violence on Britain's streets.

The government says one of the biggest problems is the theft of cellular telephones, with more than half-a-million of the handsets stolen last year.

John Denham is a government minister who specializes in fighting crime. He says most of the victims, and the perpetrators, are teens.

"There is a particular problem at the moment with street crime. A lot of it, the increase in statistics, is mobile phone theft. A lot of that, though I wouldn't minimize the importance of it, is stealing by school-age children from other school-age children," he said.

London police say there is another disturbing trend in street crime - a dramatic rise in the use of guns by muggers.

London police recorded a 50-percent increase last year in robberies at gunpoint, despite Britain's tough gun control laws.

Fred Broughton is the national chairman of the Police Federation, an association of 125,000 British police officers.

He says major cities, especially London, need a lot more officers on the street.

"Well, unfortunately London for instance, has got fewer police officers than it used to have. So the workload has increased for every officer and there's been this increase in street disorder and street violence and street robberies," he says.

London police say their workload has increased because of extra anti-terrorism duties following last year's attacks in the United States.

The government is recruiting auxiliary officers to help out, but Mr. Broughton thinks it is a bad idea.

"I don't like a cheaper version of policing, working under difficult situations and being less professional and less qualified and less accountable," he says.

Instead, the Police Federation is backing government plans to hire 130,000 new policemen by 2003, saying that is the best way to combat the criminals.