A significant increase in knife crime has led to a predictable call by Home Secretary Sajid Javid for an increase in the use of stop and search and to several politicians and senior police officers suggesting stop and search should be made easier with fewer restrictions on its use.
At least we haven’t got calls for the arming of all police this time around but it would be a mistake to dilute the laws and codes of practice on stop and search - not least because these knife crimes are neither caused by a lack of stop and search nor by restrictions of its use.
For one thing there are many places in the country where police do not extensively use stop and search and almost none of these areas are suffering from increases in knife violence as experienced by London. Knife crime is caused by many things that have nothing to do with police powers.
Stop and search is an important tool for police to tackle crime but making it easier or simply increasing its use is not the answer to anything.
For many years I was in the Met Police including in some areas where young people did resort to violence. Often this involved drugs but some young people also lived by a culture of fear and rivalry. I was involved in policing large schools and the communities around them. Adults would move about the inner cities without thinking much about it while many young people feared going to other areas because they might face hostility.
A powerful sense of rivalry existed between schools and fights would often be arranged between schoolboys after school sometimes leading to extreme violence. In other words, these children existed for all intents and purposes in a different society, one full of fear and anger and competition.
Violence has existed for as long as humans have and it doesn’t take much to bring it to the fore. This is especially true when violence becomes normalised for young people, offering them a form of culture and inclusivity. Feeling isolated from wider society is undoubtedly a factor in the rise of violence, along with an indifference by the rest of society about poverty, life expectations and how these young people feel about themselves and one another.
This goes deeper than simply a lack of police action and powers. We should be careful when we hear a Government politician, under pressure, talk about encouraging more police action because it isn’t the real answer, despite sounding powerful.
We should look at the wider picture of police cuts leading to 20,000 fewer officers and the pillaging of local council funding, with even worse cuts still to come resulting in closed youth centres and lost outreach workers. Schools have faced cuts to their budgets at the same time so they have to do less.
The Home Office’s own research indicates that cuts to police has led to an increase in crime.
Party politics matter here because they effect the lives of real people. The current Conservative Government has been cutting public spending at the cost of public safety because that is their ideology, fewer taxes for the wealthy at any cost.
Theresa May herself presided over much of this work and has argued that crime was going down and police cuts made no difference - but she has been proved wrong.
Calling for increases in stop and search and a change in the law to make it easier is cheap talk but it will come at a cost to poorer marginalised people because stop and search is a very blunt instrument to aim at a very complex problem.
Politicians may well then stand back and accuse the police of making it worse to divert attention from the savage cuts the Tories have imposed and everyone.
Meanwhile, children are dying on our streets. Others are the victims of crime or are living in fear. What they need is help and advice and support at the right time. But while that’s not forthcoming, they will live with less hope.