‘This is not an issue we will ever arrest or enforce our way out of.’ Commenting on young people’s knife-carrying in a Guardian report, Commander Duncan Ball has never hit the proverbial nail better on the head! Which makes rather strange the support of his colleague Commander Dean Haydon for a more active, albeit ‘targeted’, strategy of police searches.
In the aftermath of the 2011 disorders there was a move to revise searching strategies so that they could be better targeted. Yet recent developments seem to have taken the police by surprise: in response to a spike in reported offences, they are now calling for increased searching, albeit ‘targeted’. How can we be confident that such changes might work?
The last time a national campaign against ‘knife crime’ was evaluated, no clear evidence that searches were effective was found. The fact that the police are now calling in aid comments from young people who say that searches are a deterrent raises the question of whom they are talking with. Who are these ‘gang members’ who want more searches? Are they young people who are demonstrating that the gang label is rather less meaningful than might appear?
As a key part of our research we are currently investigating just how far ‘gangs’ are related to serious youth violence and we urge the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to establish a transparent dialogue with communities and independent researchers so that the realities of ‘gang’-based enforcement can be analysed.
Operation Shield - making labelled gang members collectively responsible for members’ offending - carries the danger of creating new levels of desperation and fear among them. Instead in a community-supported and multi-agency initiative, young people should be encouraged to be part of constructive social networks with access to real opportunities - Operation Social Change perhaps?