On A Knife Edge: A Borough Gripped By Crime

A list of names that needs little explaining – two have recently been added in the desperately short space of 24 hours.

Jermaine Goupall, 15 (08/08/2017)

Daniel Namanga, 19 (08/08/2017)

Mahad Hussein Ali, 18 (29/06/2017)

Osman Sharif, 16 (06/06/17)

Abdirahman Mohamed, 17 (02/06/17)

Joao Gomes,18 (13/05/17)

Elijah Dornelly, 17 (07/05/17)

Mohammed Hasan, 17 (23/04/17)

Jordan Wright, 19 (19/04/17)

Abdullahi Tarabi, 19 (11/04/17)

Quamari Barnes, 15 (23/01/17)

Djodjo Nsaka, 19 (20/01/17).   

Seemingly not a week goes past in the capital where we don’t hear about another stabbing – another needless and tragic threat to life.  

To put that sentence into perspective in 2017 there have been 12 teenage fatalities this year in London as a result of knife crime.  

It hardly comes as a surprise when, according to the Metropolitan police, the number of children carrying knives in schools rose by almost 50% over the past two years.   

Earlier in the year 16 terrible days saw a spate of killings where 11 Londoners had their lives ended due to knife violence.

Homicides Increased by 50%

If we focus on Southwark it won’t be surprising for many of the local community reading this to learn that the borough now has the worst knife crime rate out of all of the London Boroughs with an average of more than two incidents involving knives happening every day. 

Incidents of Knife Crime increased nearly 46% in the last year in the borough – nearly double the 24% rise across the capital, and similar figures apply to those incidents where someone was injured. 

Not only does it have the worst crime rates it also has the worst conviction rates. 

However, the most telling statistic is saved for last: Homicides increased by 50%. 

The list of damning figures seems to go on and on and point to one thing: knife crime, in the words of the mother of one teenage victim, “seems to have taken over the streets of London.” 

Knife haul: Weapons collected by the Met 

There is no single cause or reason to explain why knife crime has seen such a sharp rise recently – a perfect storm of funding cuts both to the MET and to Voluntary and Community Sector Organisations (many of who provide invaluable youth and play services) may not have invented knife crime, but they have certainly contributed to its rise. 

The MET is having to find around £400m worth of savings out of its £3bn annual budget. You can be sure that ‘innovative savings’ and ‘back office efficiencies’ will be on the table. At a time when crime is on the rise cutting funding seems obviously counter-intuitive.  

Dedicated youth worker numbers dramatically reduced

The knock on effect to Southwark will potentially (and likely) see at least one if not two of the borough’s police stations closing. 

Cuts to youth and play services – amounting to tens of millions of pounds in London – has seen dozens of youth centres close and vital dedicated youth worker numbers dramatically reduced. 

A report from last year by Unison paints a bleak picture: 

  • Around 1,660 youth work jobs were lost between 2014 and 2016, following the loss of almost 2,000 posts between 2012 and 2014. The majority were part-time workers.  
  • Between 2014 and 2016, 244 youth centres were closed, on top of the 359 that were closed in the previous two years, bringing the total to over 600.  
  • Almost 98,000 youth service places for young people were cut between 2014 and 2016, in addition to the 41,000 that had gone between 2012 and 2014. 

Southwark alone has seen a reduction in council employed youth workers from 122 full and part-time posts to 42 part-time posts. The most recent budget also saw a reduction of nearly 50% when Southwark council was attempting to hammer a series of square pegs into round holes when deciding its budget last year. 

Aside from a climate of austerity the issue is a complex one: gang culture has a role to play – as does the increasing influence of social media. Challenges around different family dynamics, lack of support for mental health issues, drug use – these all play their part. 

Police believe more young people are now carrying knives for differing reasons, including status, criminality and, increasingly, for self-protection. Significantly, protecting themselves from others carrying weapons is often considered to outweigh the risk of being caught by police.

Inherently Racist Policy?

Relationship between young people and the police, whilst never easy, appears especially fraught at the moment – especially when the MET’s Stop and Search policy is considered. 

Southwark alone has the third highest level of stop and searches out of all London boroughs. When you at this more closely the perceived  issue becomes apparent: If you are a black teenager in Southwark you are twice as more likely to get stopped and searched than if are a white teenager. 

Is this evidence of an inherently racist policy or does it highlight where the problem lies? Police will argue that their stop and search policy is intelligence-led. 

Scene where 19 year old Daniel Namanga was stabbed to death just off of the Old Kent Road (courtesy of Southwark News)

New Knife Crime Strategy

There are no easy answers to the current crisis but what is happening to tackle the issue and bring peace to our local neighbourhoods? 

London-wide Operation Sceptre was launched in July 2015 with the aim of reducing knife crime and the number of families affected by it across the whole of the capital. The launch coincided with new legislation that ensures that anyone convicted of carrying a knife for a second time faces a mandatory custodial sentence.  

It remains to be seen whether this threat of jail time has deterred people from carrying knives.  

The recent rise in crime figures suggests not. 

To date the operation has resulted in a total of 2294 arrests, 473 of which were for possession of a knife or weapon and the recovery and removal of an eye watering 1435 weapons from the streets of London.  

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also recently announced a new Knife Crime strategy, along with an extra £625,000 worth of funding (bringing the total to £7million). This includes measures to target lawbreakers, provides special educational toolkits and metal detecting knife wands in certain schools, a new media campaign, and extra funding for victims of crime.

Last month a new London Knife Crime task force, headed by the father of murdered student Stephen Lawrence, was launched. 

Borough Commander Simon Messenger (courtesy of Southwark News)

At a local level various key stakeholders in Southwark (including local policing teams, Southwark Council, and the Voluntary and Community sector) have been developing a borough-wide Knife Crime Strategy that will be published in the coming months. 

This plan seeks to provide long term transformational action to reduce knife carrying. Inevitably it will require positive engagement with young people (both during the process of developing the strategy and during its implementation), their parents, schools and other key partners.

Simply put if it is going to achieve its goal in reducing knife crime the community and statutory agencies need to work together.

The strategy has been developed in reaction to the damning figures highlighted earlier in this article. Borough Commander Simon Messenger is robust in his response to the rise in knife crime, and partially blames the reluctance of victims to report incidents to police, as you can read in his interview with Southwark News.

Southwark also has an Anti-Knife Crime Forum which looks to broaden the conversation to all members of the community who are affected, as well as developing active measures that seek to mitigate the impact of knife crime on the communities of Southwark. 

Southwark Peace Garden

In a somewhat unconventional approach local residents, alongside the support of the Walworth Methodist Church, are embarking on an ambitious project that will see the creation of the Southwark Peace Garden. The project will represent a bold, symbolic statement of the community’s commitment to action and will centre around a globe-shaped sculpture made from surrendered and decommissioned knives. 

Unfortunately, to date, any initiatives that look to tackle the issue – whether focusing on prevention, tougher punishments, or education – appear to have little lasting effect. At least, that is what the statistics attest to. How many more charities will we see established in the memory of the victims? How many more amnesty schemes will see hundreds of knives handed in? How many more strategies do we need? 

Knife crime has long been in the public eye – especially over the last decade or so where the use of term (whether by media outlets or politicians) has exploded.  

Whilst there are no easy answers to the current crisis that isn’t to say that an awful lot of time and energy isn’t being put into efforts by the local communities to tackle the issue and bring peace to local neighbourhoods. 

The sad reality is that many more young people will die from knife-related violence. 


If you would like more information about anything discussed in this blog post, or would like to find out how you can get involved, then drop us a line. engage@communitysouthwark.org 

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