Lord Paddick: Without trust, the police cannot be effective in tackling knife crime
By gaining the trust of the community and working together against knife-carriers, police can make stop and search more effective, says Lord Paddick
The rise in knife crime is a complex issue and the solutions are long-term and multi-faceted. In the meantime, the police have a vital role to play in making the streets safer for everyone.
There is a lot of controversy over the use of stop and search. Critics point to the fact that you are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white. Defenders point to a disproportionate number of knife crime offences in some areas involving young black men.
The fact is, a young black man stopped at random in Brixton, the so-called capital of black Britain, is statistically more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator. The police need to target criminals, not black people.
Most knife-carriers do not keep their weapons concealed at all times. They use them to threaten, to intimidate, to assault and to kill. Even those who carry a knife in the mistaken belief that, to be safe, they must carry a weapon to protect themselves, will tell their friends. Occasionally they will have to prove they’re armed for their “protection” to be effective. People in every community, where knives are a problem, know who the knifemen are.
When I was the police borough commander in Lambeth, I used to go to residents’ and tenants’ association meetings. They used to say to me that “everyone” knew who the drug dealers were, except the police. “Everyone” knows who the knifemen are, but they do not trust the police enough to tell them.
A few years ago, I was on a housing estate, close to where I live now, and young people from a pupil referral unit took me to the place where a mother, carrying a baby, had been stabbed to death. They wanted the police to take the knives off the streets to prevent this kind of tragedy happening in their community, but they wanted the police to stop and search the right people, not the innocent people.
Around the turn of the century, it was black-on-black gun crime that was taking far too many young men. The police and community leaders decided that, at least in relation to gun crime, the police and the community should put their suspicions aside and cooperate to end the bloodshed.
Community leaders worked with the police to ensure the anonymity and protection of witnesses and, once satisfied, reassured the community that the police should be trusted, that they should work together to stop the killing. It was difficult, it wasn’t perfect, but it worked and the killing subsided.
This time it is more difficult for the police. Knives are far more common than guns used to be, and social media is whipping up tensions between rival groups. A continuing real-terms decrease in police budgets has all but destroyed community policing. Reductions in the number of police officers have been eclipsed by the devastation of police community support officer numbers, the backbone of community policing and the builders of bridges between increasingly militarised police officers and an increasingly suspicious public.
Controversy surrounding incidents such as Hillsborough and the Stephen Lawrence murder, some historic child sex abuse investigations, the conduct of undercover police officers and their relationships with female activists, and the longest-serving post-war home secretary turning against the police service, have all helped to undermine trust and confidence in the police.
It is not a strong platform upon which to convince the public to work together with the police, on the same side, against the knifemen, but policing cannot be effective without it.
Lord Paddick is Liberal Democrat Lords spokesperson for home affairs, and former Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner 2003-07