Reassurances given over action against violent crime

Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings
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South Yorkshire communities affected by a recent upsurge in violent crime – much of it knife related – have been told to expect improvements far sooner than the ten year turn-around time predicted to solve London’s problems.

The capital is experiencing serious problems with violence and knife related incidents resulting in a shocking catalogue of deaths this year, with Mayor  Sadiq Khan predicting that measures to control the problem will take a decade to take effect.

Sheffield and other parts of South Yorkshire have also experienced a rise in such offences – though on a more limited scale to that in London – but South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings insists progress in this area will be seen much sooner.

Both London and South Yorkshire are following the principles of the Glasgow model, using many different agencies to help address the underlying problems which see some young men get involved in gangs, drugs and the violence associated with that lifestyle.

Dr Billings believes that needs to be coupled to strong enforcement, an approach which showed success in the American city of Cincinnati, and said he believed results of work already started in this area were beginning to show.

He said: “The public in South Yorkshire would somehow feel we have given up if we said it would take that long” and described the London Mayor’s prediction for that city as a “counsel of despair”.

“Violent crime cannot be solved by police alone,” he said, “These are young men getting involved in gangs and drugs. You have to do something to enable these young men to see they can have an alternative future to criminality.”

That means working to improve prospects in education, finding jobs, addressing mental health, tackling addiction issues and enforcing the law through policing.

“The bit where I think police come in is around enforcement,” he said, with the need for “focused and forensic” work to tackle offending.

“I think that is what we have to do, and what police are doing. It is a twin approach, to address why young people are disaffected.

“They don’t think they have jobs and that makes the criminal life look more attractive.”

Stop and search checks have been re-introduced on a larger scale in South Yorkshire, after being scaled back on national advice some years ago.

The tactic can be controversial with accusations that it leads to disproportionate checks on some parts of the community, but Dr Billings has found it to be widely supported by women in communities most obviously affected by knife crime, with mothers and grandmothers keen to reduce the risk of needless harm to their relatives.

Dr Billings questioned the effectiveness of tactics to improve the life chances of those at risk of getting involved in knife crime, without effective enforcement as part of the package.

“What is often overlooked is that at the same time as the various agencies coming together to do the preventive work, the police also continued with enforcement activity, including stop and search,” he said.

“In fact, in Glasgow, when stop and search was cut back more recently, figures for knife crime began to rise again.

“So we mustn’t misunderstand what Glasgow or Cincinnati are telling us.

“If we look again at Cincinnati, their success has been more spectacular than Glasgow and over a much shorter timescale.

“As well as the ‘public health’ approach, they also refocussed policing, targeting those individuals causing most harm.

“Officers concentrated on the neighbourhoods where the gangs operated and figured out whey they were comfortable there. Then they disrupted their activities. This place-based approach saw crime fall by 46 per cent last year.

“Another way of describing this approach is not new and it’s very British. We must be ‘tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime’.

“In this respect, Tony Blair was absolutely right. But if it is to work, it needs the co-operation of communities.

“The police need the intelligence that the community holds. They need the community to be supportive of stop and search – so long as it is proportionate and fair.

“This is what the renewed focus on neighbourhood policing is giving us and this is why I think we won’t need a decade let alone a generation to make a difference,” he said.