A new study has ruled what activists have been saying for a long time. Stop and search has a limited effect on reducing knife crime.
Both journalists and politicians have played an enormous role in overstating the role stop and search can take in changing what is happening on the ground. The study, which was carried out by Centre of Crime and Justice Studies, concluded stop and search is an incredibly inefficient way of confiscating knives from people who would carry them as weapons.
The grandstanding we see each time we see a slight increase in violence is hustings. There is almost always an admission that the violence is not connected, and yet a sporadic increase in the number of officers performing stop and search is said to be the solution. The increase serves as a PR stunt, you’ll hear talk of ‘more officers’ — when in fact it’s the same officers doing extra hours or being pulled away from other areas of the service.
It’s time we admit that this kind of move serves only as a tactic to reassure middle class people who usually have no grasp on the issues at hand. Concern can’t just be had when we see an increase in the number of young people dying when we know each week young people are being stabbed and saved by paramedics and trauma surgeons.
Stop and search continues to play a role in responding to what is happening on the street but we can’t keep the public under the false illusion that serious youth violence in London or anywhere else in the UK can be combated through police activity. There’s no evidence that stop and search can have the impact needed to put a halt to violence on this scale. In fact, we now have more evidence than ever before that suggests its impact is very limited, and at times entirely unhelpful.
For any police action to be effective, it must be supported by community-led intervention and proactive prevention work, something the police service can’t and shouldn’t lead on. It has been too easy to ignore the negative ramifications of stop and search in the past, but we must continue to remind decision-makers of the damage being done in the process.
Stop and searches have increased fourfold under the most controversial stop and search power, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This alone should demonstrate the scale of the issue because this power is used in response to criminality that has already taken place or intelligence suggesting there’s serious concerns about violence. Can we not admit that at this point we have already lost?
We know the issues are multifaceted and deep-rooted, yet we continue to focus on what I call surface-level issues – the issues that are easier to quantify and evidence in the media. Meanwhile, the underlying issues continue to go ignored.
Politicians shouldn’t overlook the circumstances surrounding these young people. Young people who have little to no affinity or stake in their local ‘community’, young people who are part of working families but still living in poverty, young people who are experiencing extreme amounts of trauma and being offered no support, young people who face unemployment or underemployment, and finally, young people who can’t access real support because the charities that have the solutions are poorly resourced and underfunded.
Don’t let anyone tell you austerity hasn’t played a role in exacerbating the issues at play, when the very services delivered and funded by Government to combat these issues have been decimated since 2010. Council-led youth provisions continue to disappear at a scale incomparable to most other areas of local public services, mental health services continue to be miles behind the ‘parity’ the Government has promised and when police services are being forced to cut corners and undermine community relationships because of poor funding we cannot pretend these pressures don’t have consequences for the most vulnerable people in our society.
Five years ago Step Up To Serve, a coalition of organisations founded to increase social action among young people, received backing at the highest levels of all of the most prominent political parties of the time. What followed was buy-in across the private, public and third sectors. It is incredible that one of the greatest tragedies of our generation hasn’t garnered the same level of support despite the endless platitudes from ‘concerned’ politicians. If we are going to tackle this issue we must realise these issues stretch into all areas of our lives. We know these issues are exacerbated by poor social mobility but no one wants to admit that these young people are vulnerable because then we’d have to consider offering them compassion, when it’s easier to just write them off as thugs.
Let’s not pretend the solutions haven’t been available to successive Governments. Activists, communities and charities have been speaking out on this issue for years. They made the same statements in 2008, 2009 and 2015 when we saw some the highest numbers of teenage deaths, and they continue to say the same things now. Recently we’ve started seeing coverage of a ‘public health approach’. Many have been acknowledging this as a new concept but this approach is only being considered now because decision makers have been forced to consider it by relentless campaigning.
We must remind the Government that this approach can only work if we invest in the lives of young people. The Home Office have finally conceded that a public health approach is necessary, Vicky Foxcroft MP, Member of Parliament for Lewisham, has asked the Government repeatedly for updates in Parliament, the most senior police officer in the UK has thrown her support behind the approach and over 1.1 million young people declared it a top priority and yet we have little evidence of any meaningful progress.
There is one thing we can guarantee – if we continue to respond to the issues young people face in the same ways, we’ll continue to receive the same results.