The problem with London’s knife crime cuts both ways

The police needs to step up, argues Edward Davies – but so do families and communities

London is developing a serious problem with violence and knife crime. As the capital’s financiers were adding up the bills for the financial year end, police chiefs were totting up the 22 fatal stabbings in March, which gave London a higher murder rate than New York.

And this number says nothing of the fear, injuries and mutilations that did not end in death but have seriously damaged people’s lives. In the year leading up to September 2017, 12,980 recorded knife crimes took place in the capital, up more than 20 per cent on the previous year. At the time of writing, a child of just 13 is fighting for his life – one of six people (five of them teenagers) stabbed in a single day in April.

‘The decrease in stop-and-search of the past few years will need reconsidering’

This all led to the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, publishing a new strategy for tackling serious violence, and obviously the police force, which the Home Office oversees, has a role to play in this. Rightly, there are questions around police numbers – not the simplistic total, though, that may need review, but are the right people doing the right jobs? Have we got the right balance between proactive and responsive policing? What is the result of the reduction in community policing?

The decrease in stop-and-search of the past few years will need reconsidering. Done badly, it is a divisive threat to community. Done well, it protects the most vulnerable. There are concerns that it overly targets young black men, but our first concern should be how these men are so disproportionately represented in the murder victim statistics.

However, it’s all too easy to say the answer lies in policing alone. The long-term answers lie before children even start on a life of violence and crime. There is good news that these answers, often more social than criminal, are being worked on by small charities across the capital every day – the challenge is to recognise them and build on them.

‘A young person’s behaviour is dependent on the way they see themselves and how they see their future’

For example, XLP (which stands for ‘The eXceL Project’) was started in 1996, after a stabbing in a school playground. It now works across eight London boroughs and engages with over 12,000 young people per year. It’s founded on the principle of the power of positive relationships. Too many children now grow up in families without role models. XLP uses hooks like sport and music to provide the mentoring these children need to thrive.

Fight for Peace is a similar organisation. It has realised that a young person’s behaviour is dependent on the way they see themselves, how they relate to others, and how they see their future. Education is a huge part of their work to ensure that the kids they see have the skills they need to make the most of opportunities they’re given.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit an organisation called Regenerate, working on estates in south-west London, developing projects such as football clubs, mentoring schemes and trips for young people to volunteer in developing countries. I asked one of the young people there, who had their own run-in with knife crime, what the Government could do for him. His response was simple: opportunities.

It’s why Regenerate set up The Feel Good Bakery, a social enterprise sandwich shop that gives young people an opportunity to get real job skills. By working to address social need – worklessness, education, relationships – these organisations see success with young people who might otherwise go down the wrong path.

It’s easy to see London’s knife problem as one to be tackled by the police, and the Met does have a role to stem the problem. But if we really want to see a capital thrive, it starts closer to home in our communities, ensuring kids have the education, work and relationships they need to succeed. 

Edward Davies is Policy Director for The Centre for Social Justice