Knife crime: our kids need more than ‘get tough’ policing

May 13, 2008 at 9:33 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment
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It won’t be much comfort to the parents of Lylle Tulloch or Jimmy Mizen – the two teenagers whose tragic deaths brought knife crime back in the news – but for the rest of us it’s reassuring that statistics don’t yet substantiate the perception that such crimes are ‘spiralling out of control’. From The Guardian:

According to the British Crime Survey, knife-enabled crime (any crime involving a knife) over the past decade has remained stable at around 6-7% of all crime, comprising 30% of all homicides.

In fact, the most recent crime survey by the Metropolitan police showed that knife crime has actually dropped by 15.7% over the past two years, from 12,122 to 10,220 incidents.

Nonetheless, that still amounts to a knife-related incident every 52 minutes –  a figure that cannot be ignored by anyone who wants to see safer streets and an end to the stabbing of innocent kids.

From his public statements so far, it’s clear that Mayor Johson intends to pursue a law & order approach modelled on Rudolph Giuliani*: high-profile crackdowns coated in get-tough rhetoric and designed to reassure a frightened public that his office is at least being seen to do something. But whilst the muted introduction of metal detectors at school gates and mobile metal detectors for police officers might pull a few knives off the streets, there’s no certainty that it’ll produce the dramatic reduction in knife crime that we need, as Enver Solomon of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies explains:

“If someone has been a victim of crime, they might carry a weapon because they feel unsafe. They don’t inherently want to stab someone; it’s just that the knife in the pocket makes them feel secure. The majority of children are carrying pen-knives, not machetes,”

[…]

“If you examine the conditions in these wards, these are areas of high social deprivation, social exclusion and lack of opportunities for young people,” he explained. “The focus should not be on enforcement, but rather on opportunities for kids, through youth support services, peer mentoring schemes and employment opportunities for school-leavers.”

If Boris wants to prove that he’s serious about reducing knife crime in London, he can issue all the metal detectors he wants. But unless he matches this with an equal commitment to those already-established youth support groups, charities, volunteer workers and campaign organisations who are trying with all their might to do good and would do even more if they had the financial backing, his words will come across as little more than the tubthumping of an unimaginative opportunist.

*It’s worth noting, however, that many of the reforms made in New York City’s policing were begun by Giuliani’s predecessor, David Dinkins. It’s just that Rudi’s never been shy of claiming credit for anything, whether he deserved it or not.

Update: Of course, the problem of knife crime is certainly not isolated to London, but I think it’s interesting to keep an eye on how Mayor Johnson (yeah, I’m still not used to writing that yet) performs on this issue – it might well teach us something about how the new ‘hoodie-hugging’ Tories would approach crime if elected nationally.

Update #2: A few of the current campaign groups against violent crime in our inner cities. Their focus is mainly on gun crime, but the two aren’t entirely unrelated:

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