More thoughts on tackling gangs and knife crime in Croydon

By - Thursday 21st June, 2018

What else can we do to try to prevent this deadly culture from getting worse?

Photo public domain.

Sadly, Croydon did not elect a Conservative-led council on 3rd May. Whether the Labour-led council takes up the idea of consulting a panel of experts to advise on tackling knife crime remains to be seen. Just in case they don’t, let’s develop the argument beyond my previous article, which was couched largely in terms of the individuals who perpetrate these crimes.

That surely must be part of the approach, but it is peer pressure and group think – gang culture if you will – that encourages these individuals to behave as they do. Tackling the structures that nurture and support violence is another avenue to pursue.

For a gang to survive, it needs money and new recruits as older members drift away, are jailed, or otherwise taken out of circulation. Without money, attracting recruits gets considerably more difficult.

Disrupting the supply chain could reduce a gang’s ability to raise funds

The lucrative drugs trade is the main source of funds. Lucrative it may be, but it is also vulnerable due to the long supply chain. Disrupting the organisational structure and the supply chain could radically reduce a gang’s ability to generate cash.

The conventional response here is more police, and those hackneyed phrases “more bobbies on the beat” and “community policing”. If you are a Labour politician in Croydon, despite Croydon having a Labour council and a Labour mayor responsible for police budgets and establishing police priorities, you pass swiftly on to blaming the government. Conservative politicians (such as me) point out that police numbers are little changed from when Croydon had a Conservative-run council and a Conservative London mayor, so violent crime has increased on Labour’s watch.

These arguments miss the point. The question we should be asking is what the best approach is for reducing violent crime. Once you know what you want to do, then it is the time to look at police numbers. If the police we currently have are spending their time ineffectively, or if the problem can best be solved elsewhere, then getting more police doing more of those ineffective things is neither a sensible use of public money, nor a good use of police resources.

Local Policing Teams are about public reassurance and reducing fear

We should challenge the assertion that more bobbies on the beat will solve the issue. Local ‘Policing Teams’, as they are now called, are designed to make the police more visible, reduce fear and aid interaction between the public and the police. They are primarily about public reassurance. The theory is that this helps catch criminals by gathering local knowledge, gaining intelligence and tip-offs from the public.

This offers the best of all possible worlds. The public are reassured and we catch more criminals. Given that the traditional gang structure has a strong element of ‘owning’ an area and fighting off outsiders, this makes sense. Police who know their local area, the local gangs and their membership are best able to address this locally based crime.

But is there any truth in this comforting assumption? Are knife sweeps perhaps little more than photo opportunities for visiting politicians? Do street briefings, where local police stand on the corner and talk to passers-by, contribute anything at all to catching criminals? When police do catch the criminals, do local people give evidence in court? Would more knife sweeps and more street briefings deliver less violent crime? Evidence is sparse.

Children as young as twelve are lured in by the prospect of making money

The emergence of the ‘county lines‘ phenomenon, whereby children as young as twelve, lured in by the prospect of making money selling drugs, are quickly channelled outside of London, may even suggest otherwise. The traditional localised gang organisation may be breaking down. Put simply, there are easier markets elsewhere and turf wars are bad for business. Our good transport links may be part of the reason Croydon has a problem.

A more effective response than beat bobbies may be more detectives or more undercover cops. Given the age of the children, schools and children’s social services may have a bigger role to play by raising red flags and enabling earlier intervention to starve the gangs of young recruits. Collaboration with the authorities on the south coast, which is the new market being fed by the ‘county lines’, may help. My apologies for raising more questions than answers, but if this was a simple problem it would already have been solved. Soundbite answers just won’t cut it; the issue is too complex and too serious for that.

Which brings me to the latest example – treating knife crime as a public health issue. Anybody know what that means and whether what might have worked in Glasgow some years ago might work today in Croydon? No, me neither. Another reason for more research and consulting experts before committing to serious action.

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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  • David Jupp

    The article you link to explains exactly what treating knife crime as a public health issue means. If you actually cared about this topic you wouldn’t repeatedly use it as a platform to have a pop at Labour. This is why Croydon didn’t vote for your party. Luckily, the Tory strange-hold on this country will fade along with its voter demographic. Tick tock.

    • Robert Ward

      I am hoping that the public health approach is considerably better than the contents of the Guardian article. I am taking steps to get better informed on the matter so I can judge.

      The article is, in summary, an assertion that prevention is better than cure (a statement of the blindingly obvious) and unsubstantiated other assertions. Extraordinarily the Scottish example is cited as having completely different circumstances but it is then asserted that this will somehow ‘work’ in London. There are comforting words on ‘targeting at source’ with no explanation of what that means nor any evidence that it is effective.

      The reason I am examining this issue is because I care, because I want it solved for which we must first understand the issue and the options we have for addressing it before taking action. That’s why I am a Conservative and why I do not fear for the future of the party. Poorly thought through, ineffective and expensive solutions are for others. In the long run that’s what counts.