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Neighbourhood Watch

Sav D’Souza on our new RoboCop police chief, London knife crimes and hugging a hoodie

Written by . Published on September 26th 2011.

Neighbourhood Watch

TIM Smith was stabbed defending a pensioner and pregnant women on a bus in East London. Smith was not a have-a-go hero, just a decent bloke not able to stand by and a watch a few degenerates act aggressively towards people going about their normal day. The situation was all too familiar, a group of lairy trouble makers out and about hassling any easy targets. It’s hard not live in London for a considerable time and not see that kind of thing going on. Smith got stabbed for his troubles and I think many people who see acts of aggression on London streets every week are wary of standing up in the off chance that a blade might come out.

Stats out on the ten worse boroughs for knife crimes showed that Islington had managed to reduce knife crime by 25% with the second lowest amount of searches 840 while Southwark, which had the second highest amount of searches 9,437, actually had an 8% rise.

Most people are more in tune with the Richard Pryor philosophy when it comes to trouble: ‘Runnnnnnnnnnnnn!, and teach your old lady to run too, so you’re not running back to save her ass’. But for people like Smith, along with those that took a stand in the London riots like the old grandmother who confronted looters, members of different communities coming together to protect their shops, a mosque or just the safety of their families, standing by or running is not an option. Police said it was not helpful for groups to take the law in their own hands but admitted they did not have the resources to cope as was plainly obvious. So what are the solutions, if any?

Well, if much of the right wing media would have us believe a new caped crusader has just rode in on his trusty black steed ready to fight crime and bring justice to the city. Step up new Met police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe. A modern, technology embracing, no nonsense RoboCop-like police chief.    

For starters, there is the growing issue of knife crime in the capital, OK there are sporadic guns and shooting incidents, but it’s not like the States were all toddlers have AK-47s, and so knives are arguably more of a concern – unless you deal drugs or get all ‘Macho Man’ at a dodgy bar or club.

Lairy, aggressive teenagers are not a modern penom they have been around for ages, it’s just now a growing amount have knives. Hogan-Howe proposes to cut knive crime by concentrating on targeting known previous offenders. Essentially if you have been caught with a knife before you are gonna have your collar felt by PC Plod and asked to empty out your pockets. If recent research is anything to go by he might be on to something.  Stats out on the ten worse boroughs for knife crimes showed that Islington had managed to reduce knife crime by 25% with the second lowest amount of searches 840 while Southwark, which had the second highest amount of searches 9,437, actually had an 8% rise. Too much random stop and search does not work and may cause greater tensions as the new police chief has agreed.


Hogan-Howe has also said that those guilty of being caught with a knife should not escape with a caution. Cameron pretty much said the same before the election but it’s not really panned out. 80% caught in April and May this year with a knife did not serve a spell in a cell. With those kind of odds is there any point going to the trouble of getting a gun?

The new police chief is a believer in using technology to aid policing. In Merseyside he used ‘knife arches’, the type you see at airports, in known and strategic hot spots and these could be adopted in London.  

Hogan-Howe really made his reputation in Merseyside by tackling gun and knife crime and seems to have an impressive record. Whether he can deliver the same level of success in London is to be seen. With high youth unemployment, wider social issues and cuts to police funding, he will definitely have his work out. Previous top brass at the Met have been good at sound bites and talking tough but not so good at engaging with the communities they serve. Phrases such as ‘total policing’ and ‘war on crime’ used by HH are too near to ‘Zero Tolerance’ speak which has been proven to not work. Although police active involvement in engaging with communities is desirable ultimately their role is one of prevention and containment. More root causes need to be addressed elsewhere.

The current harsh economic climate and high youth unemployment means that there are gonna be a lot of added tensions in communities and more disaffected youths out there. Arguably more of a problem is to address issues such as parents finding it hard to cope and a generation weaned on celebrity culture and Hollywood fairy-tale optimism coming to the realisation that aspiration is fine if you have real opportunities or at worse way someone that genuinely gives a fuck. Cameron was on the right track when he said hug a hoodie; a little compassion can go a long way, particularly when not surrounded by an abundance of it. Social workers can testify to the amount of kids going through the youth courts who are not accompanied by a single family member.

Ultimately, policing is a complex issue and invariably will walk a tight rope between ensuring law and order and being sensitive and pragmatic. Whatever the true circumstances of the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham, which still awaits an Independent Police Complaints Commission enquiry, and which provided the catalyst for the London riots, there is still tensions between the police and members  of certain communities in London.  Police and community relations have improved dramatically since the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots in the 80s but some would argue have gone too to far as every young would be bad boy flaunts their rights and red tape hinders police being able to use initiative and common sense in a lot of cases.  

The thugs who stabbed Tim Smith need to learn respect for things other than gangster codes, showing some respect for themselves and the way they carry themselves and interact with others would be a start. After the shoddy handling of the post Duggan shooting, the phone hacking scandal and criticism over the handling of the riots the police also need to regain the trust and respect of the public.


Bernard Hogan-Howe photo via The Guardian

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