As each week passes we witness what seems like a relentless increase in gun and knife crime across the capital. Another shooting, another stabbing, another innocent victim becomes a causality, seems to be the daily news. Depressingly there is a growing and general consensus that cuts to public sector spending we will see an increase in these type of murders in London.
Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson’s recently wrote a piece for the Evening Standard on the issue of gun crime. The Standard used selected quotes rather than publishing the entire piece. We have reprinted the full text below. Of course given the Commissioner’s implicit criticism of Government and the Mayor you can see why the Evening Standard adopted this approach.
However a reading of the Commissioner’s comments in full reveals that he has joined a growing consensus on the issues both I and others have been raising in relation to public sector cuts and serious youth violence in the capital.
His comments are an important contribution to this debate and represent a significant contribution in support of this debate. Many of us, for some time, have expressed concern about the acute failure of local and central Government and the Mayor of London, to understand the complexity of those risk factors that can lead vulnerable children from broken families into being seduced or being pressured into a life of gang violence.
The Met Commissioner makes a number of very important points on the recent spate of shootings in the capital that left five year old Thusha Kamaleswaren fighting for her life.
He stresses that the police alone cannot hope to tackle the complex issues that create the conditions where serious criminality flourishes and questions the wisdom of cutting the black voluntary sector and youth crime prevention and diversion projects.
"In a time of budget cuts are we going to prioritise schemes that may prevent the next generation being drawn into a life of crime? If London has had enough of seeing police cordons around blood on the street it will require dedicated, long-term investment to support and mentor those most at risk."
He is of course absolutely right. Black youth unemployment, poor schools and worse housing, cuts to both voluntary and statutory sector youth and community services and increases in student fees, have extinguished hope for some young black people in the inner cities whose families have neither the intellectual, emotional or economic capacity nor support resources to resist idle hands being seduced into crime.
As for those actively involved in criminality the Commissioner comments:
“And what can re-assimilate those currently involved in drugs, crime and guns into taking choices that protect them and others and prevent a future of re-offending, with the resulting costs to them, their families, the impact on their victims and the massive cost to society and the criminal justice system?”
Closure of youth services, crime diversion and rehabilitation schemes is criminally short cited and wildly irresponsible. The irony is that this folly will cost the taxpayer more money in the long term as more and more young people get drawn into gangs.
Reduction in the capacity of local authority Youth Offending Teams to monitor and supervise prolific and persistent offenders is particularly worrying and will lead to many young people who need constant supervision and support being left to fend for themselves.
The cost for every murder investigation is on average around one million pounds. Whilst the Government is happy to spend that money on police and prison it refuses to spend a fraction of that amount on youth services. There is a strong perception in the black community that the murder of our young people is sustaining a whole criminal justice infrastructure with wholesale funding. The implication being that black murders are profitable.
I charge Government and the Mayor of London of abandoning the black community in its fight against gun crime. How can we justify cutting back services at a time when the fear of gun and knife crime is at an all time high? This fear drives children into gang networks for protection, as their confidence in the police to protect them is minimal.
The Commissioner damns both Government and the Mayor with feint praise when he states:
“ Projects like the Mayor’s “Time for Action” campaign, and the Sure Start children’s centers are a good start, but it will require politicians at a local and national level to provide commitment to these social policies beyond just one electoral term in order for us
to reverse the trend in the disastrous choices that our young people are making.”
I believe the message from this Government and Mayor is quite clear. As long as black youth are, in the main, killing other black people we don’t give a shit. Many in the black community hold the view that if the same numbers of middle class white youth were being killed in London there would be a national outcry and something would be done. What we certainly would not be seeing is the closure of front line crime diversion projects and youth support services.
We are in danger of gangs being the preferred provider of support for young people from deeply dysfunctional families – a kind of social services if you will. The gang becomes the substitute family for many of these young people.
Of course we want the parents of these children to take parental responsibility and reign in their wayward youth. But the reality is that some of these parents are part of the problem not the solution. These are people who themselves are immersed in the lifestyle epitomized by drink drugs and violence. When you look at these parents you understand that some children stand little chance of escaping the tragedy that is their life.
The rays of hope that offer the final lifeline’s for those young people who aspire to make something of themselves are now all but extinguished. Cutting funding and making committed youth workers redundant, closing voluntary sector projects and community centers, whilst closing affordable access to education and failing to provide genuine employment opportunities is a recipe for disaster.
I fear the price we will all pay in the long term as a result of what appears to be a toxic combination of racism, poverty, a dangerous and malevolent degree of political ignorance, underpinned by an ideological dogma in relation to public spending, will be enormous.
Commissioner’s article for the Evening Standard 19th April 2011
The frustration of having forced recuperation following the operations on my leg has had the one up side of giving me time to reflect on the Metropolitan Police with a bit more space than normal.
I wasn’t relying on the headlines for my updates on events that have occurred in my absence but perhaps seeing more 24 hour news than normal reinforced to me that by anyone’s standards it has been a busy and challenging time.
There has been significant recent attention on protests and the hard or soft, depending on your outlook, public order policing response. Given the breadth of views on the issue it often feels like a debate the police are never going to win.
However I think there are other issues that will have more widespread agreement and that these need the same level, if not more, public and political engagement.
Seeing the spate of coverage on the recent shocking shootings was one such issue that has particularly affected me. Normally when I’m sitting in the office having been informed of a shooting or stabbing I’m running through the check list of what is our police response to ensure that we are doing everything we possibly can. Seeing it with more distance I knew that both our local borough officers and our specialist investigators from Trident would be working all hours fully responding.
So that left me thinking that, for about a decade, the Metropolitan Police has had a dedicated shootings team, Trident, whose approach of working closely with communities to investigate shootings has led to vastly improved opportunities of bringing justice for the families left behind to cope with the pain and unfairness of losing a loved one.
Trident’s work, alongside other specialist units and local police, and improved community relationships leading to information being passed to police, has meant that we have had significant results in targeting and seizing the weapons of those seeking to import or manufacture them as well as finding and bringing to justice those who choose to use guns.
In 2010/11 Trident investigations led to almost 1,000 years of imprisonment and numerous weapons taken off the streets. An indication of why our arrest and conviction rate for homicide is the envy of jurisdictions around the globe.
My concern is that this doesn’t seem to be enough. Trident continues to be innovative.
The old approach of just targeting those involved isn’t sufficient and Trident has extended its work in the last few years to engaging with young people to try and divert them away from getting involved in the first place. We are using our intelligence and resources more effectively, linking the work against knives, gangs and guns to ensure we are maximising opportunities to keep the capital safe.
As offenders get younger so do the victims. How has it come to the point that a five year old is left fighting for her life as the innocent victim of a shooting? If anything constructive is to come out of this heinous event I would urge it be for us to think again about what we can all do to tackle this problem.
Trident will continue its dedicated response to shootings (despite incorrect and frankly irresponsible speculation from some media that Trident is set to close), supported by all the specialist and local policing resources that together are taking guns off the streets and getting the gun men into jail, but I don’t believe the police doing this alone is enough to turn this around.
One of the challenges is there isn’t a simple cause of what turns people to gun crime so that means the answer has to be multi-layered and will therefore be complex.
As a society how do we support families that are fractured and often without the support of responsible male role models?
In a time of massive public budget cuts are we going to prioritise schemes that may just prevent the next generation of young people being drawn into a life of crime?
And what can re-assimilate those currently involved in drugs, crime and guns into taking choices that protect them and others and prevent a future of re-offending, with the resulting costs to them, their families, the impact on their victims and the massive cost to society and the criminal justice system?
This is not a problem that I can see being solved in the short term. If collectively London has had enough of seeing another police cordon around blood on the street it will require dedicated, long term investment to support and mentor those most at risk, and to turn our most impoverished communities that suffer the blight of gun crime into areas where young people can see, want and take other more positive life opportunities.
Projects like the Mayor’s “Time for Action” campaign, and the Sure Start children’s centres are a good start, but it will require politicians at a local and national level to provide commitment to these social policies beyond just one electoral term in order for us to reverse the trend in the disastrous choices that our young people are making.
With the recent emergence of “anti-snitching” websites how do we empower communities, so that everyone living in areas affected by shootings can confidently voice their intolerance of violence and drive out the “anti-snitching” voices who seek to intimidate to prevent their criminality being interrupted?
I don’t have all the answers and I don’t claim to be an expert in social policy, but I have for many years said that police should not, and never should have, been presented as the lead agency in social engineering. I am committed to the Metropolitan Police continuing to do all that it can but clearly Londoners deserves more and our young people desperately need an alternative. It is up to every one of us, whether in public or private sector or individually to find the answers. I am committed to being part of finding these solutions but together we could be a powerful force for change
Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson
|Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson|