Police chief says social media posts of kids being ‘disrespected’ has fuelled rising knife crime
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 December 2017
The police chief charged with reducing spiralling knife crime in London has said he is determined to halt the loss of young lives – and has called on the public to set aside preconceptions and work with the force to do this.
As he laid out the arsenal of tactics being used by the Met to tackle under-25s knife offending, acting Det Ch Supt Sean Yates appealed for the community’s help to stop the violence – in the third of the Recorder’s special series on knife crime.
Attacks on under-25s in Havering and London-wide have risen steeply compared to five years ago and police say they are determined to reverse the trend.
“It’s an absolute priority,” said Det Ch Supt Yates, who is leading Operation Sceptre. “We’re doing everything we possibly can. We’re working together with our communities.”
Since April this year 100 police officers have been deployed on the specialist taskforce to combat the rise in crime, after police established that only 25 per cent of knife crime offences involve gangs.
Working closely with borough police forces, Sceptre’s tactics include using intelligence-led stop and search, targeting habitual knife carriers, use of weapons sweeps and knife arches - which detect metal as people walk through them - and intensive patrols in knife hotspots which change depending on peaks in crime.
Operation Sceptre has seized 2,472 knives, carried out 7,600 weapons sweeps, made 4,216 arrests and conducted 9,338 stop and search checks since its re-launch in April.
But Det Ch Supt Yates said the force is still facing significant challenges, including engaging young people who feel pressure to carry a knife for protection.
“The trend is obviously, worryingly, young people are still picking up knives,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of social factors, economic factors involved, broken homes being part of it, and young people in public spaces feeling the need to carry a knife because they either feel that they should for self defence, or, they actually want to carry a knife to intimidate or they want to deal drugs.”
He says police intelligence from habitual knife carriers - people who have been named twice as a suspect on a crime report in the last year - has shown social media may amplify some knife disputes.
“Ten years ago, before social media, if you were disrespected, or you were a victim of something on your patch as a young man - two, three, four, five, six people got to know about it,” said Det Ch Supt Yates.
“It never went viral. What we’re seeing now is social media goes completely viral very quickly and then suddenly hundreds and hundreds of people know you’ve been disrespected and that feeds-in in terms of ‘Now I’ve got to illicit a response or I’ll lose respect’. That’s what they tell us.”
The Met says stop and search is a vital tactic in taking knives off the streets - and Det Ch Supt Yates believes it can also be an invaluable source of information.
But he emphasised it must be intelligence-led and delivered “ethically and with integrity”.
“The messaging that we’re getting out to our officers is that if you’re in the right place, at the right time, it’s not just about going in there and stopping and searching everybody that happens to come across you,” he said.
“It’s about getting out of the police carrier and speaking to these youngsters and telling them why we’re here. It’s murder suppression, that’s the message we’re putting out, stopping knives being on the street.”
He also praised community weapons sweeps, in which the public offer intelligence on locations for police activity and help carry out the sweep, as an effective tactic for seizing knives stashed in public places such as bins or hedges.
Asked whether sentences handed down by the courts for knife crime are too lenient, he said the Home Office is now working with the Ministry of Justice to query jail terms perceived as disproportionate.
Police are also working with the government towards tougher laws on the sale of Rambo, combat and hunting knives.
“I would like to see them banned in public,” said Det Ch Supt Yates. “That’s my personal view. People tell you they go fishing. I go fishing, but I don’t need a hunting knife.”
He also called for retailers to act responsibly and keep knives in locked cabinets and said it is too easy to buy knives online.
Operation Sceptre has had a positive impact, said the officer, but he appealed for the public’s help to tackle youth knife crime.
“We can’t arrest and enforce our way out of this situation, he said. “As a parent, as a sibling, as a peer, get the message out there, ‘Please don’t carry a knife’.
“You might see it as a matter of respect, you might think you need to defend yourself, but the statistics show that you’re actually making the issue worse and young people are being murdered as a result of these actions.
“So the message to the community is, please talk to us.”
Overall levels of youth knife crime in Havering are low, say police
The senior officer in charge of neighbourhood policing in Havering has issued a reassurance that youth knife crime is low in comparison to other London boroughs.
Knife attacks on under-25s in Havering have risen by 55 per cent in five years, and across the capital by 60 per cent over the same time.
But Dept Supt Jane Scotchbrook, of East Area Command, says other areas such as Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets are worse affected in terms of overall levels of youth knife crime.
“We are below average,” she said. “That doesn’t mean of course that when there is a knife crime or a stabbing that it isn’t a serious matter. It is never a minor offence. One knife crime is too many.
“Obviously we would love to eradicate it and we will do our best to do that.”
Work carried out by the local force includes education in schools, weapons sweeps and knife arches, and stop and search checks - which Dept Supt Scotchbrook described as a “huge deterrent on carrying out crime”.
Figures for this year show a spike in youth knife attacks in Havering during the summer holidays.
DS Emma Bowles, who works in the East Area Gangs Unit, says this may be due to preventative work carried out by police at schools.
“We do weapons sweeps in schools and occasional knife arches at some of the colleges,” she said. “So it is more difficult for kids to take a knife into school or college and that would be my personal view as to why, in the summer holiday, figures are higher.”
Many knives are disposed of through weapons bins in police stations in Havering and the public are encouraged to make use of this facility.
The East Area Command has also asked for the community’s support in policing knife crime.
“We would ask for the community’s help to provide us with the information to help tackle this sort of crime,” said Dept Supt Scotchbrook.
“I would really urge people to speak to the police and tell us what’s happening, because information doesn’t reach us.”
If you have information about anyone carrying knives, call local police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.