A number of interesting points here.
It is pretty clear that the perception and fear of violence is far worse than the reality, a fear fueled by TV and the papers - particularly the tabloids, combined with the rose tinted view if the past that LMU refers to.
It may be useful to contemplate Dickensian 19th century London, for example. Surely no-one is going to suggest that it was safer than today? Footpads, highwayman and other ruffians were of course rife in earlier periods. I also recall my father telling me about a part of Enfield - yes leafy suburban Enfield (alrighht, in the east, in Brimsdown)- around Jute Lane, that was completely lawless, being cut off in n island formed by the river and the railway. Police would not venture there at night, when the level crossing was shut, and only in two's or more in teh day. This was in the 20's and 30's.
Some serious academic research on the number of attacks on elderly people in various decades would be more useful than vague recollecections of how nice things used to be.
However, having said all that, it certainly seems that casual violence - muggings and the like - is far more common now and are almost regarded as a necessary evil and a fact of life. I myself was attacked one night a few months ago, to my astonishment the ruffians were no more than 1 (they ran away empty handed.) The children of several of my colleagues have been "mugged", some more than once. There is actually little point in reporting these matters as there is not even an attempt to investigate the matter. Now it is well know where large groups of youngsters gather at night - a prowling police car, or even better coppppers on foot, should disperse these groups and have a presence in certain areas. But tey are under-manned, over-run with paperwork and tied down with "rules of engagement".
I agree that the underlying problem is one of society and I believe, the abdication of personal responsibilty. Everything is someone else's fault now, and education is all "child centred".
Savage sentencing is unlikely to have any beneficial effect. The US has one of the worst violent crime records in the world, for example.