Schools will be provided with metal detectors, police stop-and-search powers will be extended, and staff at McDonald's and Transport for London will be trained to help young people in danger as part of a radical new knife crime strategy that was launched yesterday in London.
London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, hit out at government cuts to youth services, which he said had contributed to a rise in knife crime, as he pledged to invest £250,000 of his budget in community projects aimed at empowering young people and diverting them away from knife crime. More youth workers will be stationed in London A&E departments to help victims.
He pledged an additional £625,000 for knife and gang crime projects, taking total spending on tackling the problem in the capital to £7 million.
Twenty-four people under 25 have been fatally stabbed on London's streets so far this year, according to the mayor's office.
Khan, who launched the new measures alongside Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick, said he had developed a "comprehensive knife crime strategy" as he announced the measures at Dwaynamics boxing gym in Brixton.
The mayor said he had devised the strategy after spending the past few months "speaking to hundreds of young people, speaking to professionals, and speaking to community partners like Dwaynamics in Brixton".
Residents of Angell Town, where the gym is located, welcomed the radical new measures yesterday – including the extension of often controversial stop-and-search powers.
The proposals include increased use of "intelligence-led" stop and search, with "judgment training" for police to help them decide when to carry out a search. All frontline Met officers will be equipped with body-worn cameras by the end of the year, both to increase public confidence and reassure officers themselves.
The strategy also includes extending the City Safe Havens scheme – which trains staff at companies to help young people in difficult situations – to Transport for London and the top 20 fast-food outlets in London, with McDonald’s and KFC already on board to offer a place of safety to anyone under attack.
Metal-detecting knife wands will also be given to more London schools in areas where knife crime is most prevalent, and every school will have a nominated safer schools officer. Meanwhile, specialist youth workers who work with victims of knife crime at London’s major trauma centres will be installed in more key A&E departments.
Pastor Lorraine Jones, whose son Dwayne Simpson founded Dwaynamics before he was stabbed to death in 2014 as he intervened to stop a friend being attacked just yards from his home in Angell Town, said she welcomed all the new measures, adding that "there's no limit to what you want from the police to help you to reduce this to save your child's life".
She told BuzzFeed News: "I do support everything that's in there. A lot of what is in there has come from the community. There's been a lot of consultation done, and that consultation, a lot of it has happened in the community, where they've invited young people, parents, community leaders like myself to put forward our ideas, being in the core of the problem, and I'm really happy that these things we've put forward have actually been included."
She added: "It's not all about stop and search, it's not all about having metal detectors; you've got to deal with the grassroots, the real root of it, which is in the family home, and they've included that and also invested money where they're going to be working with the young people, the parents, and siblings.
"I would say the community didn't really have much of a voice or influence to put forward their ideas and have them taken into account, but this has happened with our new mayor. We're endorsing this as a community, and we're going to work at it because we need to save our children."
Jones said: "The increased stop and search isn't the problem, what our issue was is the way in which it's been done, but what I can say is more of a community and police relation has been built and is being built.
"A lot of young males, a number of them have been in prison, some of them were victims, some were perpetrators, but they came to launch this knife crime strategy knowing that the commissioner of police was here, the police were here, as well as the mayor, because we want to save lives."
She continued: "Unfortunately the fact is still a large number of young people are carrying knives. The police have to do their job but we're happy with the investment which is going into prevention, because our focus is not that more of our kids are stopped and searched and found with a knife, but that more of our kids are not going to be carrying knives."
Talking about how her son's death affected her life, Jones, who is affectionately known as "Mum" in her community, said: "It's a daily struggle, it's a nightmare, it's like a dream. I still can't believe he's gone, even last night I was in tears ... hosting the mayor and the commissioner.
"Dwayne being the loving boy, the caring boy that he's always been. He had such a great sense of humour, very warm and caring, but that side of him cost him his life. He simply saw a young boy being chased by somebody with a knife and was confident that he could help to defuse the situation. He did help – the young boy got away – but it cost him his life, which he didn't know."
She added: "It wasn't a knife, it was a sword, I saw it. Dwayne is a very strong, built young boy, he's 20, he was a boxer, and he had a jacket on that day, but that knife went through his heart, it went right through to the other side. He had to have open-heart surgery.
"This happened seven minutes from my door. I was called that Dwayne had been stabbed and I ran to where it had happened and I saw my son in that state. As you can imagine, I'm going through shock, trauma, and grief. Every time I hear a young person has been stabbed, the first thing I ask is 'Is he alive?', because I know what knife crime can do.
"It takes lives. I've lost a lot of my hair. I have sleepless nights, my diet has changed. It literally has changed my entire my life and my family's life, but what is keeping me going, and not just going but rising me up, is the love I still have for my son [and] that we have to fight against this."
During an intense bout of action last week, police in London took a total of 518 knives, 11 firearms, and 50 offensive weapons off the city's streets. Officers made a total of 622 arrests, including 180 for possession of a knife or an offensive weapon.
Outlining the strategy, Khan told BuzzFeed News: "As far as I'm concerned, every death on the streets of London is an utter tragedy. As far as I'm concerned, one bereaved family is one too many – we have dozens in London."
He described the strategy as "tough on knife crime, tough of the causes of knife crime", adding: "We're going to get rid of dangerous people and dangerous weapons from the streets of London. We're going to educate and protect young people but also support communities and victims."
The government has cut almost £400 million from youth service spending across the country over the past six years, and since 2011 the capital has lost £22 million in youth funding as a result of cuts to councils.
Khan said: "I'm angry that over the last six or seven years the government has cut hundreds of millions of pounds from youth services. In London alone, 30 youth centres have closed down and 12,700 places for young people have been lost.
"My message to the government is: Halt these cuts and reverse them. In the meantime I'm doing what I can, I'm providing funding for community groups... I'm not excusing criminality, but it makes me angry that we've got young people in deprived communities without the educational chances or the employment prospects being let down.
"And that's why Dwaynamics is so important – they give a helping hand to fulfil the potential of young people," he added, saying he was "going to invest in young people in particular rather than writing them off".
Other measures in the strategy include a specialist team of 80 police officers who will support the Met in targeting knife-crime hotspots, including people called "super recognisers" to help spot key offenders, and extending the Met and Trading Standards’ use of test purchasing to crack down on businesses selling knives to minors, as well as "naming and shaming" those that continue to do so.
A £200,000 media campaign will be launched in the autumn, including toolkits for schools and community groups, and will work with media giants including Google to address online videos that glorify knife crime.
Detective Superintendent Sean Oxley told BuzzFeed News that, ultimately, the key to stopping the scourge of knife crime was for the police and the community to work together.
He said: "I think it's the most fundamental thing that we can do. It's absolutely crucial that the police and community work together. We need to do things at an early stage to stop people getting involved in negative influences, because once they do it becomes much tougher."
He added: "I wish that the police didn't have to use stop-and-search – who would want to do that, and have a confrontational situation? That's not what we want to do, but unfortunately as Lorraine has said, if someone had stopped the boy that had killed her son with a knife before that happened, that police officer would have stopped a crime from happening, which was a death.
"It is a fundamental tool but it is something that is only part of the solutions. The solutions lie further upstream to stop people getting involved in that in the first place, because otherwise we're always fighting against a battle which can't be won."
Commissioner Cressida Dick added: "Despite everything that has been happening in London in recent weeks, knife crime remains a top priority for me and the Met.
"But we absolutely cannot deal with this problem though enforcement alone. We need to change attitudes and behaviours and for that to happen we need partners and communities to join the fray. In short, we need everyone to step up and do their bit.
"Together we can and must address the reasons people are carrying knives, we can and must dispel the myth that a knife will make you safer."
Hannah Al-Othman is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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