03:44, August 02 180 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-02 03:44:04
Hardliner Priti Patel is the wrong person to tackle knife crime

Priti Patel is being hailed as the “hardest line home secretary for years”. Her fan club expects a tough, criminal justice-led approach that will reclaim the Conservatives’ reputation as the party of law and order. If so, she will be the wrong home secretary to tackle the surge in youth violence.

The hard right are looking forward to a return to the tried-and-failed approach of searching, arresting and imprisoning our way out of trouble, but the evidence points to the need for prevention and early intervention by a range of state agencies.

In the year to March 2019, police forces in England and Wales recorded more than 47,000 offences involving knives, up 8% on the previous year and the highest total since records began. In the year to March 2018, 285 people in England and Wales were stabbed to death. The number of juvenile offenders convicted or cautioned for knife offences has increased by 48% in four years. Figures from eight of the largest police forces reveal that stop and search has more than doubled in two years. In the first nine weeks of 2019, 10 teenagers were stabbed to death.

Against this blood-soaked backdrop, the cross-party home affairs select committee has published its report on serious youth violence. This wide-ranging and thoughtful analysis describes the recent rises in youth violence as a social emergency, requiring concerted state action at local, regional and national level. It dismisses the government’s serious violence strategy – almost devoid of clear actions, targets and accountability – as “completely inadequate”.

Key recommendations include agencies working together to help safeguard children from risks outside the home, such as exploitation by county lines gangs, increasing the confidence of young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the police, and providing dedicated police support to schools in high-risk areas.

Crucially, the MPs highlight the strong evidence linking deprivation and vulnerability with knife crime and serious youth violence. They argue that the current surge has been exacerbated by a “perfect storm” of cuts to youth services and policing, growing numbers of children excluded from school and taken into care, and a failure of statutory agencies to keep young people safe.

It talks about youth outreach workers and community projects co-designed with local young people. It highlights the importance of giving young people safe places to go, and demands urgent action to tackle school exclusions and shortcomings in pupil referral units.

Crashing into this complex latticework of causes and solutions is the new standard bearer for the right, Patel. Her supporters are slavering at the prospect of finally purging the memory of Theresa May restricting the use of stop and search, confidently predicting Patel will “win the war on crime”.

They want to see the home secretary come down hard on recreational cannabis use, ramp up stop and search, give longer sentences – to arrest our way out of the problem. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, told the first meeting of the new national policing board that the answer to the surge in violent crime is “strong, visible policing”.

If Patel’s approach to tackling youth violence is to pursue these simplistic policies, she will fail to get a grip on the problem long-term. For example, while appropriate use of stop and search has its place, Home Office research and analysis by the College of Policing demonstrate that targeted weapons searches in London have had little, if any, impact on overall crime rates.

New York City police used stop-and-frisk 686,000 times in 2011. Since then, the tactic has been all but abandoned while crime has dropped sharply. That does not prove that ending stop and search would cut violent youth crime, but it is surely convincing evidence that simply ramping up searches will not solve the problem.

From the US to Glasgow, there is powerful evidence that tackling youth violence requires a concerted, sustained effort to address the root causes, alongside effective policing. Patel will fail if she does not accept this reality.

Richard Vize is a public policy commentator and analyst