Martin Bentham, Evening Standard, February 4, 2019
Half of all knife crime offenders in London are teenagers or even younger children, new Met figures have revealed in a stark illustration of the scale of youth violence in the capital.
The police statistics show that 41 per cent of those being caught for knife crimes across London’s boroughs are now aged between 15 and 19.
Another 8 per cent are younger still, ranging in age from ten to 14, in a further sign of how carrying and using blades has become part of life for a minority of troubled young people.
The new figures came as a Scotland Yard chief warned that attacks in the capital were also becoming “more ferocious” as offenders who were “more and more young” tried to kill or injure by “getting up close and stabbing someone several times”.
Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan, the head of the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force, added that police were striving hard to tackle the problem and “making some progress” by upping stop and search and using other tactics, including the deployment of “embedded” plain clothes officers to work with uniformed counterparts in the worst hit communities to help police intervene before stabbings occurred.
But he admitted that officers were having to “re-educate” themselves on how to conduct stop and search after losing “the art and skill” during recent years when — under pressure from the government — their use of the tactic had declined to “negligible” levels.
Mr Adelekan’s comments follow the fatal stabbing of two London teenagers — Jaden Moodie. 14, and 17-year-old Nedim Bilgin — last month and a succession of other young knife fatalities in 2018.
Both killings have already prompted intense concern about the way in which young Londoners are being caught up in knife crime.
But the new statistics disclosed by Mr Adelekan provde the most comprehensive illustration so far of the strikingly young age profile and background of London’s knife offenders.
He said that the perpetrators of knife crime — which the Office for National Statistics last week showed at a near record level of just under 15,000 offences in a year — were overwhelmingly young males with almost half aged between 10 and 19.
Another 17 per cent were aged between 20 and 24, meaning that the under-25s account for two thirds of all knife crime in the capital.
On ethnicity, Mr Adelekan said that 73 per cent of knife offenders and 53 per cent of victims were from a black or ethnic minority background.
Many were from more impoverished communities and possessed similarities with each other that needed to be understood if sustained falls in knife crime were to be achieved.
“Violence is top of the agenda for the Met and knife crime injury victims under 25 are 15 per cent down,” he said during an address to the policy debating organisation Westminster Insight. “There’s still plenty of work to be done, but we are heading in the right direction.
“Part of our success around this has been down to increasing our use of stop and search. There were 15,000 done in November, compared to July when there were roughly around 9,000. So there’s been a significant increase.
“We are also making sure all our recruits go through stop and search training and frontline officers are re-educated around stop and search… because what our officers were finding on the streets, we haven’t done stop and search in quite a while, there were people walking round carrying a knife, there was lots of confrontation because we hadn’t done it in quite a while and probably lost the art and skill of having the conversation without it descending into confrontation. So we are sort of learning as we go along.”
Mr Adelekan said the Violence Crime Task Force, which was set up last April and now has 300 officers, was also using 24 hour intelligence gathering, combined with a high profile overt presence, covert operations, and other confidential tactics to target offenders
He warned, however, that “we cannot enforce our way out of this — prevention and intervention is the key” and added: “Attacks are more ferocious. We had 135 homicides in 2018 and 79 of those were knife homicides. That says something; getting up close and stabbing people several times
“When you speak to gang members and ex-gang members their world is totally different from ours and I think we need to understand that in order to intervene.
“The journeys of some of these young people embroiled in knife crime and gangs are quite similar. Excluded from school, no significant role model in their life, move from place to place, involved in petty crime very early on, come from a household known to social services. All those things, you look at the pattern, it’s all the same. Police have a role, but every profession, every agency has a role to play, so hopefully we intervene in the right places.”
Mr Adelekan said that the Met also backed the introduction of new knife crime prevention orders — announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last week — which will allow social media bans, restrictions on going to specific areas and curfews to be imposed on those aged 12 or over who are at risk of blade offending.
Mr Adelekan said the new orders had been requested by the Met and would allow “intervention without criminalising” young people.
He added: “Currently if you are not in a gang there are no civil interventions. To get a criminal behaviour order you have to have been convicted of an offence.
“There’s nothing that allows us to intervene in young people’s lives legislatively without criminalising them at the moment. So there’s a gap.”
Knife crime in London reached an all-time high last year when Office for National Statistics figures showed a total of 14,987 such offences during the 12 month period ending in June 2018. New figures published last week showed the total had dipped marginally to 14,847 in the year to the end of September. But that still amounted to an 8 per cent rise on the comparable period a year earlier and included 83 knife killings and 161 rapes or sexual assaults carried out with a blade.
Met figures to the end of November show that the boroughs with the highest levels of knife crime are Westminster, Haringey, Southwark, Brent and Tower Hamlets. Islington, Newham, Hackney, Lambeth and Enfield made up the rest of the top ten worst affected.