As an ex-police officer having served during the late 70s and early 80s in Moss Side, Manchester I have personal experience of policing during a period of particular social unrest. In July 1981, for 48 hours the tensions felt within the communities that I policed culminated in violent riots that were also witnessed in Bristol, Brixton, Southall and Toxteth. In today’s communities the issue of violence has not depleted but according to latest police figures, knife crime within the youth culture has almost doubled over the last five years with 342 children under the age of 16 being treated in hospital for stab wounds last year. The figures reported in 2012-13 were of 180 reported cases of children being treated for such injuries. The number of recorded child knife killers has risen by 77% in two years. A knife-point robbery by teenagers has increased by more than 50 per cent in the same period, and the number of teens carrying out knife-point rapes has increased by a third.
Whilst the causes of the violence in the 80s were reportedly down to tensions between the police and youths within the communities, there has been much speculation as to the causes of today’s increase in violence on our streets. The role of social media in facilitating gang recruitment has purportedly had an effect on the statistics, along with the education system and the increasing numbers of children being excluded from free schools and academies that are not bound to follow council lead initiatives on retention of students. The government have repeatedly highlighted the improvements made to the way in which police record offences as a way of downplaying the actual rise in violent crime. However, the ONS point to the increased numbers of children being treated for stab wounds reported by the NHS, suggesting that there is a genuine rise in incidents. The fall in numbers of active police officers on the beat and the reduction on funding is bound to have had an effect on deterring violent criminal activity.
Whilst a serving officer in GMP in the 80s the emphasis was very much focused on community based policing. I knew most of the criminal network from having an ear to the ground and having close links to the community in which I served. Each division had an LIO (Local Intelligence Officer) who would keep a track on the activities of individuals within their patch. Whilst I applaud the work of the PCSOs who are mostly the visible face of the police force within local communities today, the lack of power to arrest and the limited police training means community policing is almost powerless to deter violent crime and a commitment to increase the numbers of serving police officers on the streets must be made in order to re-establish order on our streets. I can only see a return to the old style policing as a positive to regaining control of what has become a knife crime “epidemic.”
In October 2018 the Home Office agreed to set out a range of actions to tackle violent crime, including providing £200m towards a youth endowment fund designed to support interventions steering young people away from becoming serious offenders. They are currently consulting on a new legal duty for agencies such as the police, education partners, local authorities and health care professionals to take action and prevent violent crime in a “public health approach.” There is also to be an independent review on drug misuse.
I welcome the report that there is to be an extra £970m in police funding proposed for 2019-20 and the Offensive Weapons Bill which is currently being put before Parliament intends to introduce new offences to tackle knife crime.
With more and more children being exposed to violence through video games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty, surely there is a responsibility for all parents and schools to educate children against violence and promote age appropriate gaming as part of a child’s mental health care. Is it possible to re-educate parents to be responsible for their child’s mental health development by introducing stiff penalties or sanctions imposed by the department for social services for neglect or even abuse in allowing exposure to violent videos and games at a young age? Surely responsibility should start at home?
In conclusion, if we are to maintain control of criminality within our country we need to move back to the principals that Sir Robert Peel founded the police force on all those years ago. He believed “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.” Presence is everything. Without it the streets run amok and respect is all but lost. Let’s get police back on our streets!