Serious youth violence Contents


123.During the course of our inquiry, the Government recognised that additional policing resources were needed to tackle rising levels of serious violence, and announced £100 million of additional funding for policing this year. This chapter looks at the pressures on policing and the impact of different measures on tackling violent crime, including neighbourhood policing, schools officers and stop and search.

Police funding

124.The debate about links between police cuts and serious violence, which initially overshadowed the launch of the Serious Violence Strategy, was reignited in early March after Jodie Chesney and Yousef Ghaleb Makki were killed in separate incidents over the course of a weekend. The then Prime Minister said that there was “no direct correlation” between falling police numbers and violent crime, prompting vigorous disagreement from a range of commentators and stakeholders. The following day, Cressida Dick told LBC radio: “I agree that there is some link between violent crime on the streets obviously and police numbers, of course there is, and everybody would see that”.188 A Number 10 spokesperson subsequently said that the Prime Minister was simply stating that this is “a complex area”, and that “we need to be addressing the issues in all areas”.189

125.Central Government direct funding to police forces, excluding counter-terrorism and the funding reallocated for national priorities, reduced by 30% between 2010–11 and 2018-19 in real terms.190 In December 2018, the Government announced the funding settlement for 2019–20, increasing it by “up to £970 million” compared with 2018–19, with a total settlement of up to £14 billion. Like previous uplifts, this increase is dependent on additional income from the council tax precept: the central Government grant will remain flat in real terms, increasing by £161 million (approximately 2%), while PCCs will be able to raise an additional £509 million per year by levying additional precept charges without holding a local referendum.191 Despite this uplift, analysis by Committee staff has found that, in real terms, the police service will have £1.86 billion less to spend in 2019–20 than it had in 2009–10.192

126.Our Policing for the Future report criticised significant cuts to neighbourhood policing since 2010. We asked forces how many officers and PCSOs had dedicated neighbourhood roles in a) 2009–10 and b) 2017–18. Of the 33 forces with data for both years, and excluding those who had restructured the neighbourhood role, all but one (Hertfordshire) reported a decrease in the numbers of neighbourhood officers, averaging cuts of 35%.193 We called for the Government to “report back to us within one month of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to explain what actions it has taken to maintain core neighbourhood policing functions in all forces, and to prevent officers from being diverted to other policing requirements”. We also concluded:

Neighbourhood officers underpin the police service’s more specialist capabilities in crucial ways. [ … ] As part of the police response to gangs and serious organised crime, neighbourhood officers get to know the young people locally who might be tempted to get involved with criminal activity, and can spot patterns of behaviour that other parts of the service might miss. Once lost, these relationships cannot be quickly rebuilt. Without the maintenance of a consistent and reliable police presence in communities, forces’ efforts to respond to the recent wave in volume and violent crime will be severely compromised.194 [Emphasis added]

127.Sara Thornton told us that police efforts to combat serious youth violence are being hampered by the fact that “core policing is under such strain”, despite the fact that senior officers know what works:

[ … ] Chiefs are of the view that we know what tactics work, whether that is patrolling of the hotspot areas where the high-harm offences are happening, whether it is about the use of stop and search [ … ] whether that is about concerted action on county lines on targeting organised crime groups.195

[ … ] I would point to the evidence that there are fewer officers. There is a lot less policing happening and there is more crime. I also think that colleagues around the country will say [ … ] a lot of the organisations that were heavily involved in prevention and diversion are not there in the way they were five or 10 years ago.196

128.Sir Denis O’Connor said that “there has been a significant reduction in the deterrent effect of the police” since 2010, as a result of funding and workforce cuts. While evidence for the deterrent effect of policing on violent crime is limited, figures do show that the number of arrests has halved over the last decade, from 1.4m in 2009/10 to 698,737 in 2017/18.197 In June, data obtained from police forces by The Guardian found that the number of detectives serving in “major crime and murder squads” had fallen by 28% between 2010–11 and 2017–18.198 Commissioner Dick said recently that detection rates for some offences are “woefully low”, partly due to increased levels of complexity and the growth of digital evidence.199 After we called for extra police funding in our Policing for the Future report, the Home Office confirmed that the Home Secretary has “committed to prioritising police funding at the Spending Review”.200

129.The Government has also recognised the need for urgent additional resources, providing £100 million for policing this year, a third of which is funding violence reduction units. These are intended to bring together the police, local government, community leaders, health providers and other key partners. The Home Office has said they will be responsible for “identifying the drivers of serious violence locally and developing a coordinated response to tackle them”.201

130.Cressida Dick told us that the £100 million was a “reasonably small amount” in the context of “the reduction in policing scale and capacity and budgets over the last few years”.202 She also highlighted the challenges of investing in people when the spending is ‘in year’:

£100 million is obviously very welcome. It has not been distributed yet, but our understanding is that it is to be in-year. Recruiting new people takes a while, and getting them skilled takes even longer; being able to keep them if you do not have a budget is difficult.

Similarly, Chief Constable Thompson said that the money can only increase capacity in the “short term”, by asking staff to work days off or overtime.203

131.The temporary nature of this uplift was confirmed by the Minister for Safeguarding in June, when she wrote to the Committee Chair, stating that “we do not expect forces to take measures which will incur costs beyond the funding period”. She also said that the funds “provide support for surge activity including overtime; intelligence, training and technology to support this activity; along with complementary activities such as police school partnerships”.204 Our Policing for the Future report called for the Government to move to a longer-term funding structure, “to enable the service to frontload investment in the technology that will enable it to make the best use of its resources and assets”.205 The Government did not address this recommendation directly in its response.206

132.We welcome the additional in-year funding for policing to tackle serious violence. We also strongly welcome the creation of violence reduction units to coordinate the police response with other partners. They have the potential to have a major impact on coordinating a cross-agency approach to serious violence, providing there is clear local leadership and commitment from all the relevant agencies. However, we are very concerned by the short term nature of the funding that has been announced. The lack of commitment for future years makes it harder for forces to use the money to recruit and train additional staff, and means that the focus is more likely to be on funding overtime by existing staff. Given that many police officers and staff are already stretched by additional overtime and other demands, we do not believe that this is a sustainable or desirable approach. We reiterate the call we made last year, in our Policing for the Future report, for the Government to make available substantial additional resources for policing, so that forces can recruit additional officers and staff, both to respond to serious organised crime and to increase community prevention activity, neighbourhood policing and schools officers.

Social media and online platforms

133.It has been argued that the rise in police-recorded serious violence can also be partially attributed to the rise in violent content online, which is readily accessible and widely shared on social media platforms. The Serious Violence Strategy notes that drug market related violence may be facilitated and spread to some extent by social media, and that it can glamourise gang life while normalising carrying weapons.207 The Home Office announced last year that a 20-strong team of police officers and staff would be tasked with disrupting and removing overt and covert gang-related online content, in a new “social media hub”.208 The Minister told us in April that 17 officers and staff had been recruited into the hub.209

134.While we welcome the news that the Home Office is investing in a social media hub to tackle the roots of online content, we are concerned that a team of only 17 police staff and officers will be unable truly to tackle this issue. Yet again, there appears to have been failure on the part of social media companies to address this issue adequately.

Stop and search

135.Commissioner Dick told us that she had invested any extra funding she received, unless ringfenced for other priorities, into “tackling violent crime on the streets of London”.210 Stop and search has been a key priority: the Commissioner said that the tactic had been “an extremely important part of our success in the last few months in suppressing violence in some areas”, and emphasised the importance of good briefing and intelligence, as well as the use of body-worn video. She assured us that her force has been “targeting the people we know to be the most violent, targeting habitual knife carriers, targeting the right places where we know violence is likely to take place”.211

136.The Commissioner also told us that the force’s use of Section 60 powers, which enable the police to stop anyone in a defined area (for a specific time period) to prevent serious violence, have also increased significantly—from “20-something times” in the year that the she took office to “nearly 300 times” in 2017 and early 2018.212 She said that Section 60 powers were used “very professionally, and in a measured way” and that the police “have found no difficulty in using it”:

My officers are quick to know when they need to ask for one. They have a very good understanding of what the law says, which is where serious violence may take place, and I have always applied that since I became Commissioner.213

Chief Constable Thornton told us that community engagement to explain the application of Section 60 had improved, and that officers were “very careful about the context in which we are doing it and spend a lot of time trying to explain to communities why that is necessary.”214

137.In June, it was reported that the use of stop and search had increased five-fold in London between 2017–18 and 2018–19. Black people were nine and a half times more likely than White people to be stopped and searched nationally in 2017–18.215 In January, an analysis by The Guardian found that the Met Police had increased its use of stop and search on London’s Black population by 19% in the previous year. A “briefing note for senior officials”, apparently seen by the paper, said that “disproportionality has increased”, with Black people 4.3 times more likely to be stopped than White people.216 According to the campaigning organisation StopWatch, under Section 60 powers in London, Black people are 13 times more likely than White people to be stopped.217 The Home Secretary has defended the disproportionate use of stop and search against Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, highlighting that “if you’re Black you’re more likely to be a homicide victim than any other ethnic group”, and adding: “If Stop and Search mean[s] that lives can be saved from the communities most affected, then of course it’s a very good thing”.218

138.Chief Constable Thompson suggested that the West Midlands is taking a slightly different approach to stop and search:

My observation would be that young people at the moment feel under-protected. If we solely resort to stop and search, they will feel over-enforced against. In the approach we have been taking in the West Midlands, we are doing stop and search. We are now going through a stop-and-talk strategy with young people and a stop-and-think strategy with partners.219

He also suggested that Birmingham had been using Section 60 “to safeguard and protect young people”, and “not to over-enforce on them”.220

139.Evidence on the effectiveness of stop and search at reducing violent crime is extremely limited. An academic review published in early 2018, using ten years of data from London, examined the potential effect of the tactic on different forms of crime. The researchers found that a 10% increase in stop and search (S&S) was associated with a drop in “susceptible crime” of 0.32% (monthly) or 0.14% (weekly)—a statistically significant but very small effect. When drug offences and drug-related stop and searches were excluded, the size of the effects halved. The study “struggled to find evidence of an effect of S&S on violent crime”: a 10% increase in the tactic led to a 0.01% decrease in non-domestic violent crime. The academics concluded that it “seems likely that S&S has never been particularly effective in controlling crime”, and yet “police officers believe that S&S is a useful tool of crime control”.221

140.Echoing Commissioner Dick’s comments, other senior policing figures have also asserted that stop and search is a valuable tool for reducing serious violence. David Lloyd, the PCC for Hertfordshire, told us: “I do not think it is helpful that people feel that if they carry a bladed object, they are unlikely to be stopped and searched. That is why I am very supportive of us using Section 60 powers and various other powers to be able to stop people and search them”.222 The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said in a speech in July that “when it’s done professionally, properly and with evidence–Stop and Search can be effective in taking drugs and weapons off our streets, and [is] therefore a vital tool we must use”.223 The Youth Violence Commission concluded: “In the main, we believe that stop and search is an ineffective policy, however, we also recognise that there are instances where it can–and should–be deployed intelligently. Police should focus on a truly intelligence-led approach”.224

141.Commissioner Dick assured us that, alongside surge enforcement efforts, her force has been putting equal amounts of effort into “engagement, information, communication and working with local people to explain why we are there”.225 Other witnesses have raised serious concerns about tactics in London, however, suggesting that some communities have experienced an increase in enforcement activity alongside a reduction in community policing. Project Future psychologists told us that their young people have “very ruptured relationships with the police”. Dr Bhandari told us that policing “can be very reactive; they have reached a crisis where there are lots of stabbings” and, as a result, local policing has become “quite criminalising and pathologising”.226 Dr Stringer said that there was an “antagonistic” relationship locally:

Everyone is existing in this threat-based environment, which makes interaction with police incredibly difficult. [ … ] Time and time again the young people have said to us that what is lacking is much more community engagement from policing. All the times that they get to interact with police are quite intense, which does nothing for the relationship with the community.227

142.We held a roundtable on stop and search with young people in May. Participants expressed very strong views about disproportionality, with one young person from a BAME background arguing that “We know that the police treat Black people differently”:

I was asked when I was going to come here if I had direct experience [with the police] and it blew my mind, because living in a community where you know your community is treated differently, there is none of us that do not have direct experience. Because the weight of that, it is harrowing and [ … ] it means that we do not feel safe ever.228

143.Another young person said that “The only interaction that you have with police nowadays is when you are being pulled over, when you are being stopped and searched”. That witness spoke powerfully about the way in which their relationship with the police service had changed over their young lifetime:

[ … ] my first ever interaction with the police was in primary school and I remember they used to come in with their police cars, and you’d get the fire trucks. People loved the police.

[ … ] My next interaction after that was being pulled over because there were suspicions that I had a knife on me; and I was about six years old coming home from the park. [ … ] The only interaction you have with an officer is when he is pulling you to the side, emptying out your pockets. [ … ] Now you are being looked at and labelled as a criminal when you have done absolutely nothing wrong. What that is now doing, it is creating a state of mind for young people to want to hate the police.229

144.Several witnesses have suggested to us that a breakdown in trust in the police may be putting young lives at risk. For example, another Project Future psychologist, Dr Lucy Gore, said:

It is worrying, because young people who think they are being followed, or who are in really dangerous situations, don’t call the police. We have known of young people in our community who have lost lives; had they felt able to pick up the phone and call the police, they probably would be here today. I don’t think that we as a project necessarily have the answer to that; but the breakdown in the relationship—certainly in [Haringey], and it is replicated in a lot of London—is so, so bad.230

145.In early 2018, the Youth Violence Commission surveyed young people and found that only 46% would go to the police if they were worried about being a victim of crime.231 Outlining those findings, Vicky Foxcroft MP (one of the Youth Violence Commissioners) concluded that “we clearly have an issue with lack of trust [ … ] among young people and the police”.232 Dame Louise Casey noted that “you’re more likely to reach out to somebody if you know them already”, and suggested that “the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing” meant that “there are not those relationships that you have day to day”. She added:

The police are one part of it; the wider police family is another, and the police officers who were in schools on a regular basis. The relationships were there already, as it were, and then you were more likely to turn to them when you knew them, so that your first interaction with a police officer isn’t a negative experience of a stop-and-search, or that your family is having their door kicked in.233

146.Giving evidence to us in October, Philippa Addai, whose son Marcel was murdered in 2015, also lamented cuts to neighbourhood policing:

I would like to see, personally, more police on the beat, how they used to be. I remember when I was younger I was out of school and one of the police used to come up to me and say, “‘Ello ‘ello,” you know, “What are you doing here?” They were more engaging with you. Now you hardly see them. You only see them in cars. There should be more interacting with the young ones to stop the hate as the kids get older towards the police.234

147.The Youth Violence Commission recommended last year that there should be a police officer attached to every primary and secondary school in the country;235 Vicky Foxcroft told us that this was would build trust in policing and encourage young people to “see the police officer as a human being that they can have a dialogue with and find other ways of resolving situations and issues”.236 Commissioner Dick emphasised the value of her force’s ‘safer schools’ officers in working with hard-to-reach young people, and told us that she was aiming to increase their number to over 500 by the autumn.237 In follow-up written evidence, she told us that every school and further education college in London is offered a “named” local police officer.238

148.The picture is quite different in other parts of the country. When we collected data for our Policing for the Future report, we pre-emptively asked for figures on safer schools officers, which we expected to be relevant to this inquiry. Of the 33 English forces returning data, ten had no safer schools officers in either 2009–10 or 2017–18. The Metropolitan Police had increased its numbers by 138 officers between those two years; excluding the Met, forces had lost 108 officers—a reduction of 37% overall. The Minister for Safeguarding told us that the Home Offices does “not collate information routinely on the number of police officers deployed in schools”, which it considers “an operational decision for the local police force in agreement and cooperation with schools in the area”.239

149.Chief Constable Dave Thompson told us that West Midlands Police now has no schools’ officers at all, and said that his force was not in a position to “even contemplate” resourcing pupil referral units. He implied that other forms of school-related support might be more helpful for reducing violence, stating that he would prioritise “Visibility around school closing times and safe routes for young people to travel in”.240 Mark Burns-Williamson, the PCC for West Yorkshire, said that his force has 40 dedicated schools officers, and “we have done some mapping around where incidents of knife crime or serious violence have occurred”.241

150.Intelligence-led stop and search is a core aspect of the ‘surge’ policing response to violent crime. When used properly, in a focused and professional way, it can be an important part of keeping communities safe. Too often, however, it has alienated the most heavily-policed communities and undermined trust in the police, particularly among young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds—especially when many young people do not see their local neighbourhood officers at all. There remains significant disproportionality in stop and search, which is not explained or justified by the increased likelihood of becoming a victim of knife crime if you are Black—particularly without a parallel programme of intensive community engagement. We will explore this subject in further detail when we report on our inquiry to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Macpherson report, later this year.

151.It is absolutely vital that the Home Office prioritises investment in neighbourhood policing and safer schools’ officers in the next spending review, to enable policing to rebuild vital links with the communities and people most affected by serious violence. By the beginning of April 2020, all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence should have a dedicated school police officer. We also reiterate our previous recommendation that the Home Office should move to a long-term funding settlement for policing, to allow for much-needed investment in the frontline workforce.

190 National Audit Office, Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018 (HC1501), 11 September 2018

191 Home Office Factsheet: Provisional Police Funding Settlement 2019–20, 13 December 2018

192 This accounts for: total police force spending power (central government grant funding plus funding raised through the police precept); additional ring-fenced funding of £98m in real terms (£100m in 2018–19); the Police Transformation Fund award for trauma-led policing; funding for the National County Lines Coordination Centre; and reductions to force budgets generated by additional pension costs.

193 Home Affairs Committee, Policing for the future (HC 515), 25 October 2018

194 Home Affairs Committee, Policing for the future (HC 515), 25 October 2018

197, Ethnicity facts and figures, “Arrests”, published 18 March 2019

200 The Government response to the Tenth Report from the Home Affairs Select Committee Session 2017–19 HC 515: Policing for the future (CP62), 15 March 2019

204 Home Office (SVC0058)

205 Home Affairs Committee, Policing for the future (HC 515), 25 October 2018

206 The Government response to the Tenth Report from the Home Affairs Select Committee Session 2017–19 HC 515: Policing for the future (CP62), 15 March 2019

207 HM Government, Serious Violence Strategy, April 2018

215, Ethnicity facts and figures, “Stop and search”, published 15 February 2019

217 StopWatch website, Metropolitan Police, accessed 15 July 2019

221 Tiratelli, M., Quinton, P., & Bradford, B. Does Stop and Search Deter Crime? Evidence From Ten Years of London-wide Data, The British Journal of Criminology, Volume 58(5), September 2018, Pages 1212–1231

223 Mayor of London press release, Mayor of London speech on the causes of crime, 15 July 2019

224 The Youth Violence Commission, Interim Report, July 2018

228 Oral evidence: The Macpherson Report: twenty years on, HC 1829, 15 May 2019

229 Oral evidence: The Macpherson Report: twenty years on, HC 1829, 15 May 2019

231 The Youth Violence Commission, Interim Report, July 2018

235 The Youth Violence Commission, Interim Report, July 2018

238 Metropolitan Police Service (SVC0055)

239 Home Office (SVC0058)

Published: 31 July 2019