Cressida Dick: Ending violence on our streets is still the Met’s number-one priority – Standard

Cressida Dick: Ending violence on our streets is still the Met’s number-one priority – Standard

By Cressida Dick

Recently, a teacher wrote to me. His former pupil had been brutally and senselessly knifed to death. The teacher wrote profoundly and movingly of the boy he knew and taught, describing him as “just a good boy with a beautiful smile”.

We are yet to fully understand the circumstances of that murder. That three children have been killed in London in the past week is appalling. It is an abhorrent waste of young lives. It affects each and every one of us. I have said before and say again that every single murder or violent attack is one too many.

When I became Commissioner 18 months ago I said my priority would be violence; it still is. It is also the priority of the men and women of the Met, who work tirelessly to prevent such attacks and identify and bring to justice people of violence.

The causes of the rise in violence are complex, and so are the solutions, but each and every one of my officers and staff, whether they are a firearms officer, a neighbourhood officer or a call handler, know violence is our number-one priority and have this at the forefront of their minds whatever they are doing. They take this personally and are determined to arrest the people who blight our communities, often working bravely in dangerous situations.

Across London this year we have taken thousands of weapons off the streets. The new Violent Crime Task Force alone has arrested more than 1,800 violent, weapon-carrying people in seven months.

We have increased the use of stop and search, acting on intelligence to prevent violence before it has taken place, including in the boroughs where we have seen the recent tragic murders. This week we have redeployed additional officers in south London, who the public will see out and about with local officers.

We are actively removing videos from the internet that incite violence. We target gangs relentlessly and have taken action to restrict their movements.

We know there are about 190 gangs in London and they commit half of all gun crime in the capital, but they also target vulnerable young people, drawing them into a life of drug-dealing, sexual exploitation and violence through a false sense of belonging, which is then incredibly hard for them to escape.

They become trapped in a cycle where they feel vulnerable, decide to carry a knife — and then arguments, perceived disrespect and escalating violence lead to them becoming victims, and often in parallel cases, suspects. We know drugs and growing cocaine markets are the driver in many cases of serious violence and we must not forget that “recreational” drug use contributes directly to the misery borne on children forced into drug-dealing on our streets.

My officers and staff take this personally and are determined to arrest those who blight our communities

We are safeguarding these children in a more sophisticated way, leading the way nationally on identifying the vulnerability that traps children into a slavery of drug-dealing. My officers use “teachable” moments in custody to help them away from crime.

The role of positive community role models, parents, teachers, youth workers and many more must not be under-estimated. It has to be right that police focus on enforcement is combined with investment in giving children opportunities for alternative and safer futures — a role that goes far beyond policing.

We also need to hear from those who feel fearful or have information about people carrying weapons, involved in criminality or threatening and coercing our young people.

In too many groups there is an ingrained culture of not “snitching” to police — understandable when the consequences can themselves be violent. Yet without this information we are losing opportunities to get dangerous people off the streets.

Faces of the victims: five lives lost in a weekend of bloodshed

Ultimately we will be more effective if we work together. Supporting communities to stand up, as many have, to say enough is enough; having strong partnerships and investment to create real alternatives for our young people so they can choose a life of opportunities helping them avoid the draw into gangs and violence; and strong, well-funded policing ensuring violence is reduced and offenders are brought to justice.

Our work will continue, we will not stop or give up. When I am out walking with my officers, as I often am, I talk to members of the public and they tell me we have their support and they support stop and search when it is intelligence-led, and they want to see us prioritising the most violent crime.

That is why my officers are out there, on the streets using all the tactics available to them to disrupt drug dealers and criminals. I want them to use stop and search because, used properly, it is a vital power for the police to take weapons off the streets.

Policing may be under-resourced but we are using our officers carefully. Officers join to keep communities safe and every one of us feels passionately about this mission.

Against what has been a terrible week of violence, there is more to do, but also much that has and is being done. The former teacher ended his letter to me: “Do not let this latest violent death become just another statistic. He mattered.”

I agree wholeheartedly with him. They all matter. To me and to the whole of the Met.

Cressida Dick is Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police