Stop-and-search is working

Knife-crime fatalities have fallen since it was reintroduced – but there’s still much more to do.

Dave Clements

Share
Topics Politics UK

‘Knife crime hits new record high’, scream the headlines. The latest figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, show that 44,000 crimes involving a knife or other sharp instrument were committed in England and Wales in the past year (up to June). That’s an increase of seven per cent on the previous year. However, the statistics also show the number of homicides involving a knife or a sharp instrument has fallen by 14 per cent. The number of incidents in London has remained steady, with a rise of just 0.1 per cent

This fall in fatalities follows a marked increase in the use of stop-and-search in the capital. And something similar seems to be happening in Manchester. Greater Manchester Police say increased use of stop-and-search in known ‘hot spots’ has reduced the incidence of knife violence by 23 per cent over the three months between April and July this year, compared with the same period last year.

So where are the celebrations for what are, on the face of it, strikingly successful interventions over a remarkably short period? Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said it would take a decade to address the problem of knife crime. Of course, there is so much further to go. But surely he should now be pleased that so many lives have been spared in the past year. Why isn’t he recommending that this tougher approach be taken up by other forces across the country?

Critics of stop-and-search like Khan are reluctant to endorse an approach they regard as intrinsically racist. They say it risks inflaming victimised communities. Indeed, when she was home secretary, Theresa May imposed restrictions on stop-and-search in an attempt to counter accusations of police racism. These have since been relaxed, allowing forces to use their powers more easily.

We certainly shouldn’t be complacent about the police’s use of these beefed-up powers. They effectively allow forces to stop whoever they like within the worst affected areas. But nor should we allow the wrongs of the police’s racism of the past to undermine what is a fittingly robust enforcement response to an upsurge in violence today.

It is not the 1980s anymore. The Met is far more likely to tell us off for hateful tweets or keep an eye on our use of gendered pronouns than it is to visit racist brutality on our inner cities.

Today, we are faced with a violent nihilism. Young people are turning on each other and their own communities. This has been particularly pronounced since the 2011 riots. In this context, public confidence in the police is threatened less by perceptions of racism than by the perception that oversensitivity to identity issues is contributing to a failure to keep the streets safe for all.

The alternative put forward by the critics of stop-and-search is often referred to as the ‘public-health approach’. But in practice, this also leads to the surveillance of young people and their families. It is currently being applied in tandem with stop-and-search. Teachers and other public-sector workers will soon be expected to follow a ‘public-health duty’ to ‘work together to address serious violence’, according to government proposals. But social workers are already over-intervening and hospitals are overstretched. Teachers could contribute so much more by instilling in young people a love of learning and putting them in touch with ideas and experiences that lie beyond themselves – something that yet another state duty will get in the way of.

Others suggest that an end to austerity could reverse the rise in knife crime. The Labour Party argues that cuts of 73 per cent to youth services since 2010, and the closure of 750 youth centres since 2012, are one of the main reasons why life for young people is ‘worse in many ways than it was for previous generations’. This is echoed by the children’s charity Barnardo’s, with its oft-repeated and pessimistic line that young people today endure a ‘poverty of hope’. More resources and better local services would certainly be welcome. But this is a distraction from the deeper causes of knife crime.

We need to understand better why young people are still being drawn in increasing numbers into violent crime. And we need to look beyond the usual suspects of austerity, social media, drill music and the mental-health crisis. We need to have serious discussions about what is actually going on in our communities.

One thing is clear, however. The failure of the authorities to hold the line has contributed enormously to the recent deadly rise in crime.

Dave Clements is a writer, adviser to local government and founder of the Academy of Ideas Social Policy Forum.

Dave will be chairing the session ‘Is knife crime a public health problem?’ at Battle of Ideas Festival this weekend. Get tickets here.

Picture by: Getty

Let’s cancel cancel culture

Free speech is under attack from all sides – from illiberal laws, from a stifling climate of conformity, and from a powerful, prevailing fear of being outed as a heretic online, in the workplace, or even among friends, for uttering a dissenting thought. This is why we at spiked are stepping up our fight for speech, expanding our output and remaking the case for this most foundational liberty. But to do that we need your help. spiked – unlike so many things these days – is free. We rely on our loyal readers to fund our journalism. So if you want to support us, please do consider becoming a regular donor. Even £5 per month can be a huge help. You can find out more and sign up here. Thank you! And keep speaking freely.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Linda Payne

31st October 2019 at 8:28 pm

It is mainly black youths who are the victims and perpetrators of knife crime so I agree with stop and search; it seems ironic that those who oppose it for being racist are not considering the victims and their families and the police have in the past were more concerned about being seen as racist than in doing something to stop these killings; if it works do it but there are deeper problems to consider such as lack of jobs lack of aspiration and lack of self worth amongst black youths that are leading too many into danger

Danny Rees

4th November 2019 at 9:42 pm

If you talk to the vicitms’ families most back stop and search. It’s just unrepresentative campaign groups and politicians who are against it.

jessica christon

31st October 2019 at 7:49 pm

London politicians like repeating platitudes about ‘public health’ because it’s clinical sounding and absolves the perpetrators of any blame, but I can’t see that working in London as it did in Glasgow.

In Glasgow, the ‘support’ carrot was backed up by a very big and very hard stick. It meant harsher sentences, it had mum and the other kids thrown out of the council flat because the 21 year old son was dealing drugs out of it, and so on.

But Glasgow is a different population. I just can’t see that happening with knife crime in London where it its main participants are Black and ethnic minority young men. London will do the teachers and ‘joined up support’ and fluffy bunnies, but there’ll be no big stick behind it so it will be ineffective.

Jim Lawrie

31st October 2019 at 10:45 pm

They are not young men. They are vicious, cowardly animals.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.