Knife crime and violence in London – what we learned from the public meeting

A few weeks ago, Streatham Action hosted a public meeting on violence and knife crime in London, and particularly in the area around Streatham. In our last issue Streatham Action  said there were three questions the meeting panelists needed to answer – why was there a rise  in violent crime, what were the authorities doing about it and what could we the public do additionally to protect ourselves and our community?

Taking these in order, the police and politicians demurred around the question of a “spike” in violent crime, but this was obviated by a report in theGuardian from GLA figures released showing a 44% increase in violent crime across London as a whole over the past year. Indeed after removing Anti-social behaviour stats from incidences by the Metropolitan Police Service’s own figures, in every Streatham ward, “Violent crime and sexual assault” (the category knife crime and gun crime fits in) greatly outnumbers any other category except in Streatham South where there has also been a spike in theft over the summer. In the St Leonards Ward, “Violent crime and sexual assault” is more than double every other category, so clearly there is an issue to be addressed. 

So given there is a problem and that it affects our area, what is being done about it? The borough commander for Southwark and Lambeth said they had stepped up stop-and-search activity, and were doing so in a more targeted way. He also mentioned that since deploying body-cameras widely complaints from the public had reduced by 70% in that time. He also rightly noted stop-and-search operations generated a slight fall in violent crime in targeted areas but that these returned to trend quickly. The problem is professional criminals responsible for much of the violence don’t carry weapons until they intend to use them thus actually detaining them on the street can be difficult. The police extend the operations through weapons sweeps looking for hidden weapons near crime hotspots but again, this only dents the figures and isn’ t solution.

Recently the Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick stated much of this violence has its roots in drug trafficking. Criminals know the [police have several critical priorities including preventing terrorism, investigating the recent rise in online and white-collar crime and everything can’t be addressed simultaneously.

There were interesting strategic changes that could show a way to reducing crime over the long term, and, as always, these need to be done now to have effects  soon but mainly 5 – 10 years from now.  The alternatives, though, are increasing criminality and violence or a steep increase in costs to society n the form of higher taxes and reduced freedom of movement around the capital. Our MP Chuka Umunna shared an interesting fact at the meeting, though, that intervening with families that are victims of crime, or in which there is a danger of becoming victims or perpetrators of crime,  cost the taxpayers between £100,000 and £500,000 per case. There is a purpose built facility in each community where children in these circumstances feel secure and can be mentored (and diverted from gang grooming) effectively by specialists. They’re called “schools” and they are the safest place many children spend time in their young lives. Intervention specialists cost around £30-40,000 each and typically can handle ase loads of at least 15 children or more. Pilot programmes are running in a few parts of the UK but London may need this sooner than envisioned. The social case is interesting; the economic case is obvious.

Thankfully Lambeth council is ahead of the curve and has commissioned research into the specific issues the borough faces in this regard, as well as proven effective ways of intervening. There is an advanced body of research Cllr Seedat and his officer team outlined at the meeting and we look forward to seeing more detail on expected deployments.

Finally, the question of what can we the public do to protect ourselves and assist the police and council to prevent the violence from happening in the first place. Naturally the Safer Neighbourhoods Panel Chairs at the meeting would say with one voice - “Notice things and report anything that doesn’t seem right to you to your neighbourhood team”. They aren’t all seeing and rely on local information and intelligence more than anything. Info like this helped nab armoured car raiders in Streatham, has closed cannabis factories and crack houses, contributed to the arrest of prolific burglars and expelled prolific flytippers living here on the taxpayers tab. Our information might not lead to anything right away, or it could stop a terrorist cell – you may never know how valuable your observation may be.

As we detailed a few issues back, there is a new borough policing structure spanning Southwark and Lambeth as a means of making the service more efficient and effective. The spike in violence hasn’t gone unnoticed, though, and although the borough commander couldn’t give us details on their plans to interdict it, they are under pressure to deliver and fast. We hope they do and wish them any and all luck in doing so, but we must all play our part and point them to the trouble spots on our local patch.