Strategies for combatting knife crime in Croydon

By - Wednesday 11th April, 2018

What can be done to bring such a youth-focused issue under control?

Photo public domain.

Today’s youths are running wild. New technology has brought greatly increased access to a wide range of information, not all of it good. Their music can be aggressive. The older generation is worried that young people are meeting in places and in ways over which they have no control and of which they themselves have little knowledge.

Out on the streets, gang violence is all over the newspapers, and knives are a significant concern. Politicians are under pressure to do something, although no-one is quite sure what. Some fear that we are all going to hell in a handbasket.

Recognise this? I do – it was 1964. The new technology was television, the new music was the Rolling Stones and the meeting place, believe it or not, was the coffee bar.

Even in 1964 there was a fear of knife crime

There had been a pitched battle in Brighton between the two gang brands of the day: the snappy-dressing, scooter-riding Mods and the leather-clad, motorbike-riding Rockers. It was mostly vandalism and scaring the older residents, but there was the fear of knife crime which had happened elsewhere. Flick knives had been banned five years before, which had given them even more cachet. The fear of the older generation was of ‘juvenile delinquency’, a term that has not survived the passage of time.

I say this not to talk down the issue of knife crime and youth violence, but to bring a sense of proportion. This is a problem to be dealt with – but we have been here, or somewhere like here, before. What to do about it is the issue, for which we need first to understand what the problem is. If you don’t define the scope of a problem, then you are unlikely to come up with anything useful.

Are we talking about the availability of knives, gang culture, economic deprivation, jobs, policing, education or what? Stand too far back and you miss important details; stand too close, and you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Knives are such everyday items, they will always be available

In my opinion, just talking about knife crime is too close. Perhaps a restriction on the types of knives available for sale, or restrictions on who can buy them, might be a part of the equation, but I suspect not a significant one. ‘Zombie knives’ have joined flick knives on the banned list, but knives are such everyday items that they will always be available in some form. The issue is why a young person might carry such a thing in the first place.

I think that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) set up by Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones misses the point. The issue is violent crime among a section of young people. The fact that they do it with knives is not getting at the root causes. It may be why the group has so far done little other than give Sarah Jones a platform to complain – and to give the appearance of doing something.

If we are genuinely concerned with changing things, then the problem must also be one over which we have some significant influence. Without that we are just armchair critics, akin to football supporters playing at being the team manager. The Croydon Conservatives have proposed in their manifesto to gather experts together and provide more funding for community-based youth activities.

What is the best approach to reducing knife crime?

That’s a good start, but what is the question that we are asking these experts to answer? My suggestion is: what is the best approach to reducing violent crime on the streets of Croydon? The specific questions that I would like answered, within a Croydon-based context, are:

  • What role do schools, charities, social services, the police and others in the public and private sector have to play?
  • How do we engage with young people and their parents, and what part do they play in the solution?
  • Are there any specific measures that we can take to reduce knife crime?
  • Which community-based youth activities should we be funding?
  • How do we measure whether or not we are succeeding?

There might be some thoughts offered on how new government legislation might help, or how the mayor’s priorities might change, but that should be secondary. It is all too tempting for politicians to point at someone else, usually from a different political party, when it comes to actually doing something. Real actions within Croydon should be front and centre.

It is my hope that Croydon elects a Conservative-led council on 3rd May, and that this manifesto commitment is pursued quickly. Serious violence blights lives and does us no favours in attracting people and investment to our town. Our community deserves nothing less than our best efforts to act swiftly and effectively on this crucial issue.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Charlotte Davies

    In 2011 we had riots in Croydon. As a consequence of those riots many social enterprises emerged, one of which is Fit 2 Learn CIC. Fit 2 Learn seeks to get to the root causes of learning and behavioural problems in adults and children . We have never yet worked with a young offender who did not have some issue with motor skills, sound processing and visual processing – these are all correctable and can be screened for by 7 years of age. Many problems with sound and visual processing can be prevented if a child has good motor skills development, so we have just produced a book: The Maze of Learning Developing Motor Skills which can be bought directly from our website or through Amazon. The UK has no physical education curriculum to ensure that all children develop good motor skills on a timely basis. This week we lobbied our MP Sarah Jones to work with us to promote this. We would like all schools, sports clubs, sports coaches and social clubs, youth groups in Croydon to be familiar with our book and to ensure that their programmes incorporate building good motor skills development. It takes a village to raise a child and if we all work together we can support all our young people to be effective learners with calm behaviour.

  • Sean Creighton

    Robert, I am surprised that you are using this issue to seek votes..It is a highly complex issue. If one factor is the continuing reduction in youth service then from 2011/12 to 2015/16 spending on them in London by Councils was reduced by £22m with more to happen in 2017/18. Across the country total expenditure by local authorities on youth services in 2016/17 came to £447.5m, £41.99m less than the figure they told the DfE they were intending to spend and a 15.2 per cent cut on actual spending in 2015/16. Their planned spending in 2017/18 would be £415.8m. This has happened under the watch of the Coalition and now Conservative Governments as part of the austerity/funding cuts. Recent debate suggests that the cuts in police budgets may also be a contributing factor to rising violence. As the issues are complex I have posted a discussion piece on my blog site at

    • Robert Ward

      Hi Sean,
      I wrote this to address an issue of concern and one on which the Conservative manifesto has a proposal. My intention is to put on record the way I think that proposal should be enacted. If you look back I did something similar on Labour’s Croydon Fairness Commission some time back. On the overt politics I do think the APPG on knife crime has not achieved anything and I have no regrets on pointing that out.

      I also have no regrets on pointing out, in fact I think it is of fundamental importance, that when spending significant money we need to know what we are spending it on and why. Just complaining about reduced budgets and trading statistics on whether that is true or not and how much is not helpful.

      Building a proper strategy is the way to achieve results. If it is soundly based then that is a justification to get additional money. Without that we have knee jerk responses, photo-op solutions and complaining. Worse we may be actively doing the wrong things.

      Let’s take an example – the Mayor has diverted resources to “neighbourhood policing”. Ask what that actually means and you get a generic response about policing by consent, knowing the neighbourhood, etc. That just describes the way we have always been policed. What it seems to mean is we will have a more visible police presence doing things like knife sweeps and patrols.

      That’s fine, but ask a neighbourhood copper how many times in the last year a patrol has resulted in a tip-off that led to an arrest. It will not be many, it may not be any. Ask also how often a knife sweep discovers a knife and you may also be surprised.

      Yet this has taken resource from rapid response. Police are usually first on scene and finding a knife victim will do their best to keep that victim alive until medical support arrives. The difference between an eight minute and ten minute response may be crucial.

      I don’t have the answers but I think this simple example illustrates how complex the issues are. We will certainly need a coherent mix of short term and long term initiatives. We need to find out what they are, and find out quickly.

  • lizsheppardjourno

    I agree with Robert that ‘why?’ is the question.

    I deplore the severe reductions in funding for youth support services, which can make a big difference for some youngsters. But as the mother of teenagers in Croydon, not one young person I know is involved in any form of criminal activity or violence, or would ever consider it.

    The reasons are obvious: they are well-supported, have strong family networks and positive adult role models. They feel effective in their own lives and have experienced success at school. As a result, they aspire, and have a growing sense of personal autonomy. Why would they want to trash all this? Even more importantly, they also have powerful inner mechanisms now becoming fully operational as they enter young adulthood: they possess restraint and judgement, and manage their anger appropriately.

    In other words, many things have gone well in their upbringing. The minority of young people who carry knives and behave in other deeply worrying ways have already been badly let down, sometimes a long time ago. The solutions to this awful problem are complex, and not just in the budget.

    It is also true that Tory cuts in police numbers and budgets have left our streets unsupervised, leading to a rise in all sorts of undesirable behaviours. Austerity has been a disaster: we need to spend more but more intelligently, and at the right time.