by Sam Reeves (lower sixth)
There have been over 20 deaths from stabbings in London just this year. Every time we open a newspaper, we are faced with a picture of yet another teenager who has been a victim of knife crime.
Since 2010, knife crime has increased by 20% (ONS) and in 2018 the highest number of stabbings for the last ten years was recorded: 39,818 victims across England and Wales (Home Office). The police and government are doing what they can but even with higher levels of Stop and Search, there have only been slight decreases in individual borough statistics for crimes involving points and blades. This alarming phenomenon in London, our home city, paired with my interest in policing, prompted me to pursue, via my EPQ, a further study of knife crime in the capital and the measures being used to prevent it.
On Monday 8th April 2019, I was lucky enough to go to New Scotland Yard to interview Commander Neil Jerome, who is involved daily with knife crime issues in his commanding role in Frontline Policing.
The seriousness of this event hit me when walking through the airport-like security and having to present my ID to four armed officers, then having to walk through vault-like bomb proof reinforced doors, before even entering the actual main part of the building. Detective Sergeant Rasheed Alawiye, who works in Counter Terrorism and who had organised my work experience for me at Walworth Police Station back in June 2018, took me upstairs to the floor where I would conduct the interview.
Commander Jerome immediately put me at ease and was very friendly and welcoming. I set up my recording device and began asking him questions relating to the rise of knife crime in London. I began by asking him why he thought knife crime was rising. He explained that there was not a single answer or a single cause. However, he commented on the role of social media with gangs creating “drill” videos to taunt each other, drug dealing and the cuts to community diversion work due to austerity measures. Commander Jerome summed up and stated, “the availability of weapons, ease of getting hold of them and the acceptability of carrying them are all factors that are coming to a head.”
We then went on to discuss policing methods that have been used (such as Operation Sceptre) and Commander Jerome highlighted the consistency of policing around knife crime: “you cannot just arrest or enforce a way out of the current situation. Lots of factors have to be considered.” He reiterated the message that the police want to put out there: “for every knife seized we see that as a life saved.”
My next question was about Section 60 (the right to search someone) and the Commander went on to explain that the Home Secretary has recently decided that in those areas where knife crime is prevalent, the requirement (under the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme) for it to be a chief officer (who authorises the Section 60) has been removed and he has also lowered the threshold from only stopping people when you have reasonable grounds that a crime will take place. The difference between “may” and “will” is significant. So for those police forces that are, in essence, the big metropolitan police forces in the UK, any inspector can order a Section 60 in complete keeping with the law. Commander Jerome remarked that Section 60 is an infringement on rights but police officers are always looking at protecting citizens’ rights within a democracy, which they absolutely have to defend. He said, “You then have to balance those against the law and one person’s right to express themselves may not necessarily be another’s and that could then lead to a break in the law. So you are always just balancing that.”
Subsequently, I asked Commander Jerome how the police are reassuring the black community that young black teens will not be disproportionately targeted. He said that this is an incredibly sensitive topic and that it is disproportionate in terms of whom they stop but that also we know that knife crime is disproportionate in terms of who the victims are more likely to be. He said, “What we have to do is make sure that all of our stops are lawful, so we are independently inspected to make sure that that is the case. And in the Met, they found that 98% of the records they inspected complied with law.” He went on to talk about the importance of body-worn cameras. The number of complaints that come from Stop and Search have dropped significantly and there are examples of where officers have searched someone and when a complaint has come in, they have examined the body-worn video and it has been found that the complaint is unfounded. 22,000 police officers on the front line in the Metropolitan Police use body-worn cameras and Commander Jerome led the project to deploy these.
I was keen to ask Commander Jerome about the statistics concerning knife crime and the apparent increase in this area of crime in London and other metropolitan areas even with Stop and Search in place. He informed me that borough statistics can be quite misleading because they only look at the whole borough and not specific areas where Stop and Search has been utilised and therefore cannot be precise with determining whether it has had a specific effect. Stop and Search has, historically, alienated many communities and has been highly controversial. I therefore asked the commander whether it should be used more sparingly and he agreed that Stop and Search was a very sensitive methodology, but he said, “Officers are far more sensitive, are better trained and accountable than ever they were. We do have conversations with our communities to say this is what we’re doing and this is why we are doing it. We try and keep people engaged but they might not necessarily be totally won over by it, nor would I expect them to be, but it is incumbent on us to explain that and communicate that.”
Our conversation concluded with a discussion surrounding the increasing numbers of police officers (3,000 police officers are being recruited this year for the Met Police) but how, due to austerity measures, the numbers will not even be close to what they were in 2013. Commander Jerome commented that what the public want is “police officers using the law in the right way and engaging with the public, as that is where they will be most effective, as opposed to just having a bobby walking around and doing nothing.”
Finally, after turning off the recording device, we had a chat about my EPQ and he mentioned that his son has done an EPQ on pilot-less flight. I left the building with a lot to think about, with regards to policing and knife crime, and this experience has inspired me even more to pursue a career in the police force.
Sam Reeves (lower sixth)