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The Mayor’s Knife Crime Strategy – Reversing the Upward Trend?

 

`We must not accept that crime and violence is a foregone conclusion for any young person in London regardless of their circumstances’

`We must not submit to a counsel of despair that some of our most troubled young people are beyond help. We will not give up on them.’

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Sadiq Khan speaks for many Londoners in the foreword to his knife crime strategy. His passion and determination are undoubtedly genuine and it’s difficult to imagine many other politicians making such statements with such authenticity and resolution.

Knife crime in London is on the up, as the strategy details, but more worryingly it feels increasingly embedded within the city’s way of life. There is a routine nature to the headlines, an exasperated acceptance every time news breaks of another incident or fatality. It’s uplifting to see political leadership from the Mayor but does he have the right approach and will his plan deliver?

There is a lot to welcome in the strategy, with its emphasis on improving coordination across agencies, involving communities, listening to young people and supporting neighbourhood policing where, hopefully, the focus is as much on building relationships and trust as it is on making arrests. Unfortunately, there are some very real problems with the strategy and we would like to highlight a few of them.

Undoubtedly the police have a key role to play in the enforcement of the law. However, it’s clear that enforcement on its own cannot address knife crime. After reading the strategy we are left with a sense that we are still enforcement-led in our approach and mind-set. The strategy’s support of stop and search as an effective technique to address knife crime is expected but none the less disappointing.

The Criminal Justice Alliance has just launched No Respect - a briefing on the experience of young BAME people and stop and search. It’s a powerful document highlighting the very real damage police stop and search has on the lives of young BAME people. The document presents the voices of young people and their experiences and alludes to the failure of our institutions to learn from the lessons of the past.

There is also the issue of what is happening in our schools with regards to exclusions. We know from research and data that school exclusion is a clear predictor to criminality. There is an over representation of BAME, and particularly black boys, in these figures. Yet the strategy has no mention of the role schools play in exclusion and the kind of approaches that can prevent it.

Involving and listening to young people has a prominent position within the strategy and that is to be commended. However, we have to push the boundaries further in this area. There is a role here for people who have been through the justice system to mentor and challenge communities and to show change is possible. We need to engage young people who have been both victims and perpetrators. This will undoubtedly be demanding and difficult and we need challenging academic research to inform our thinking on the drivers behind the violence and what can be done differently to prevent it. Learning from the perpetrators must be part of this process.   

The strategy highlights the over-representation of young BAME people and specifically black males in the figures for victims and perpetrators of knife crime. At BTEG we had hoped it would then go into further exploration of this, linking it with the over representation of young BAME people in the youth and adult justice systems and possibly the pros and cons of specific targeted interventions for this group. It should have at the very least posed the question for CJS agencies and their partners as to how they are performing in relation to these groups?

Why does this matter?

Ethnic disproportionality in our CJS is a contributing factor that embeds knife crime amongst a minority of young people. We need responses that can facilitate change earlier, empowers communities and crucially builds the concept of legitimacy amongst communities whose trust of institutions, and in particular the justice system, has been a long standing issue in police/community relations in our city. The Mayor’s commitment to raise trust in the police amongst Londoners is welcomed but there must be a focused effort from the police to address the very low levels of trust amongst London’s BAME communities particularly its young people.

We welcome the Mayor’s leadership on an issue where for too long there hasn’t been enough visible leadership. Certainly the launch of the Lammy Review in September provides an opportunity to address some of the specific concerns we raise in relation to young BAME people particularly around the youth justice system.

BTEG will of course keep engaging with the Mayor and support the strategy in whatever way we can. 

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