In September 2015, then Labour mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying, “I’d do everything in my power to cut stop and search”, the reason for which being that he claimed that the “overuse” of the tactic can have “a dramatic effect on communities”, and can “undermine public confidence in our police”.
Almost two and a half years later in January 2018, the same newspaper ran a headline on the now Mayor’s plan to crackdown on violence, “Sadiq Khan reveals police will ‘significantly increase stop and search to tackle soaring knife crime”.
This shift in position from Khan comes in response to the dramatic rise in crime rates in the capital under his office, with more than 50 people fatally stabbed, shot or injured in 2018 so far. The Times uncovered last week that, for the first time in modern history, London’s murder rate in February and March overtook that of New York. This demonstrates that violence in the capital is truly at crisis point.
It is a fact that, after the Met decreased the number of random stop and searches in 2012, violent crime rates soared. Khan appears to be taking advantage of this pattern by giving the police increased stop and search powers in the hope that crime rates will fall as a result. This approach, however, is far too simplistic, and it is incredibly frustrating that the debate around the effectiveness of stop and search is still going on.
Research carried out by the Home Office in 2008/09, published in the Guardian in May 2016, looked at the effect of mass stop and search on 26 London boroughs and on 9 different types of crime. Their analysis found “no statistically significant crime-reducing effect from the large increase in weapon searches”. This is not to say that “stop and search activity does not reduce crime”, however it does insinuate that an increasing efforts is not the answer.
The police may confiscate a knife, make an arrest, and stop a crime being committed at
that particular time. However as soon as that person returns back into the community, it is naive to think that they will not continue leading the life they did before, and resume the cycle of violence, without proper guidance.
As Khan himself acknowledged, stop and search can actually serve to negatively impact society, if conducted improperly, by creating a sense of hostility between the public and the police. That said, it is widely recognised that stop and search is a necessary and important tool employed to fight crime, but that it must be used correctly and effectively, and alongside other preventative measures that offer more long-term solutions. Stop and search alone, as the Home Office research suggests, is not going to solve the epidemic that is facing us today.
So what is the solution? Well, Glasgow is rightly used as the poster child for reducing violence within their city, and indeed across the whole of Scotland. A violence reduction unit (VRU) funded by the Scottish government was set up in 2005, following a study carried out prior that found that Scotland was the most dangerous country in the developed world.
The police played a central role in the approach initially, with a rise in stop and search, harsher prison sentences for carrying knives, and asking likely offenders to voluntarily attend the sheriff’s court. It was this latter step that demonstrated how these likely offenders were often subject to abuse themselves, and were living in communities of crime and violence that they had little option of escaping.
At this point, the strategy of the operation changed, and violence started to be viewed as a public health issue. By working with the police alongside health, education and social work sectors, the government adopted a more holistic approach, and accepted that harsher sentences and tougher police actions will not solve the problem. The people most likely to become offenders need to feel valued among society, and that they have the support of getting a job, housing or education.
The successes of this approach have been significant. According to Scottish government figures published by Vice, the murder rate in Glasgow has declined by 60% over the past decade, and between 2011-2016, no person under the age of 20 was killed with a knife. Whilst there are recognised differences between Glasgow and London, this example should demonstrate that looking holistically and across different contributing factors is an effective approach when tackling and preventing violence.
It is positive that the Met police chief, Cressida Dick, visited Glasgow in February to learn more about this approach, however there has been little indication that any real actions have come off the back of this meeting. Time is going by and almost every day now an attack or fatality is reported in the newspapers. It is now that the government needs to step in and address the proliferation of violence across the capital and the country. We need to distance ourselves from harsh stop and searches practices that are proven not to be effective, and work towards a more holistic, success-proven approach, that helps to prevent, as opposed to just punish, violence.
By Sacha Power X JAGS FOUNDATION