Social media has its part to play
The altercations that were previously contained in the local school or streets are now instantaneously shared with thousands of people on social media. Disrespect of another person is a common theme and can quickly escalate into the physical world with dire consequences. The perceived pressure to retaliate and not to be seen as vulnerable or “weak” is a strong driver that is hard for young people to see past.
Carrying a knife normalised
It is hard for many of us, who cannot possibly understand what it is like to walk in their shoes, to understand why a young person would choose to carry a knife. In some ways it is becoming a vicious circle that is hard to break. Everyone, including young people, sees the news of almost weekly knife-related murders and it makes people feel unsafe. It can encourage some young people to carry a knife for their own self-protection. The perception is that everyone is carrying a knife, whereas in reality, 99% of young people in this country don’t carry a knife (Home Office statistics), and in fact, carrying a weapon makes them more at risk of knife crime.
Those young people that get involved with gangs may have to prove themselves by committing a crime at knifepoint. So, in this instance it’s not about protecting yourself, it’s about being part of the gang and forced into risky situations by people who are supposedly your friends.
So, what’s being done to tackle knife crime in London?
Violent Crime Task Force (VCTF)
Following a peak in violent crime, the Violent Crime Task Force was launched in April 2018 with £15 million of Mayoral funding and consists of a workforce of 300 police officers solely targeted at violent crime. The VCTF forms part of the wider MPS response to pan- London violence, focusing on violence across the metropolis.
“Our approach is organisation-wide, with officers from Local Neighbourhood Teams being supported by specialist units such as the Violent Crime Task Force working together not only to detect, but vitally prevent violent crime, and they are having an impact.”
In the VCTF there are about 200 plain-clothed proactive police officers joined daily by 90 officers from local boroughs. At their daily 10.30 a.m. tasking meeting they decide where to deploy, giving the team a surge capacity, deploying resources to where they are needed to both prevent and deal with violence. Sean says, “We have agile operational responses that monitor and track violent crime so we can ensure that our resources are best placed to deal with issues. We are confident that violence isn’t merely being displaced to other areas due to police intervention, but is
effectively disrupted through targeted and intelligence-led activity.
“The VCTF can bring a large number of police officers to areas that are at risk of violent crime and can reassure members of the community. Visible policing both deters a person from carrying knives as they may be searched, but it also brings an element of doubt to those considering carrying a weapon. For example, the presence of police may cause a suspect to conceal a knife and therefore not have ‘immediate’ access to it in any confrontational situation; this potentially gives time for the individual to think about the consequences of using the weapon and possibly defuse and minimise any ‘heat of the moment’ response.
“We have been using all the tactics and powers available to us, particularly within public spaces, both from a preventative and enforcement perspective, including the increased use of Stop and Search. This has led to thousands of weapons being removed from the capital’s streets. Every one of those weapons seized potentially means the prevention of a violent incident, injury or death. We are confident that this tactic is one of the most effective methods of bearing down on violence and the carrying of weapons in London.”
Section 60 Stop and Search trial
The use of Stop and Search is a key violence suppression and safeguarding tactic used by the VCTF. The Met, together with six other police forces, is currently trialling a modification to Section 60 Stop and Search. This section of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives police the right to search people in a defined area during a specific time period when they believe that serious violence will take place or has taken place, and that dangerous weapons are being carried and it is necessary to use this power to prevent such violence – for example, following a stabbing further retaliatory incidents are prevented, saving further violence.
A Section 60 is normally authorised by a very senior police officer, Commander and above. The trial for Section 60 is that a local Inspector can authorise a Section 60 where he or she believes serious violence is likely to occur.
Sean says,“This means a speedier process. I believe this is a really effective method in minimising violence, particularly retaliatory stabbings. An Inspector on the ground understands local intelligence and can respond accordingly. The pilot will be the subject of ongoing scrutiny at the most senior levels of the organisation and will involve our key community stakeholders.”
The community reaction is mixed. Certain parts of the community ask, ‘Why aren’t you doing more?” They know it suppresses violence, and that other long-term intervention is needed.
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Sean says since the VCTF has been operating and the suppression tactics put in place, “We are seeing significant impact on street-based violence. The statistics for the rolling year show an almost 20% decrease in under-25 stabbings; this is about 400 fewer victims. We are holding the ground, now we need to move to early intervention that deals with the longer-term drivers and stops young people carrying weapons in the first place.”
Multi-agency working and Community Safety Partnerships
Early intervention is managed by Community Safety Partnerships, overseen at a senior level by borough commanders and local authority chief executives. They devise and implement locally coordinated violence plans for these multi-agency partnerships which include police, local authority, schools and businesses, working together to tackle crime. A top priority is violence.
In the past year, all community safety partnerships have reviewed and refreshed their approach and implemented a range of local initiatives to tackle violence.
Sean says, “One fantastic example is a football match (Kick-off at 3) involving police officers and local young people who are involved in street based violence or on the periphery of it.” Of course, these kinds of initiatives have been going on for years but had until recently decreased due to reductions in police numbers. “There is so much going on again, at a local level; there are people doing excellent work every day: reducing reoffending by working with young people in custody, early intervention, schools engagement, working with social services and both funded and non-funded services as an example.”
Sean is also positive about OFSTED becoming involved in measures taking place in schools, “We need to have serious conversations about violence and this can start at school.” This is particularly effective when delivered by teachers or others who are respected in the community. A teacher speaking to class appreciates the classroom dynamic more than any police officer could, so it is important that the anti-knife crime and anti-violence message comes from them.”
And when a young person is identified as at risk, there needs to be help to divert them from this path. “Everyone has a part to play. It’s about working with these young people from an early age.”
Continued on page 19 >
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