We need serious solutions to tackle the capital’s crime crisis

A Labour front-bench spokesman was told this week that his suggestion to ‘name and shame’ recreational drugs users was ‘nonsense’. In his latest column, ANDREW FISHER looks at his party’s recurring problems when they try to flex their law and order muscle

‘Nonsense’: Steve Reed’s ‘naming and shaming’ drugs policy has been dismissed by those who work in the sector

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” is perhaps one of the most effective slogans used by New Labour. But trying to appear “tough” has reduced several MPs to looking like idiots.

The slogan’s originator, Tony Blair, once stated that drunks would be marched to cashpoints to pay their on-the-spot fines. The police and commonsense consigned such errant nonsense to the bin.

Fast forward 22 years and this week Croydon North MP Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, suggests naming and shaming people who buy recreational drugs.

The respected charity Release said, “When it comes to drug policy both the main parties are operating in an evidence-free zone, the idea that naming and shaming people will act as a deterrent effect is nonsense.”

Yet meanwhile, as an oasis of sanity on drugs policy, Sadiq Khan, Labour’s London Mayor, is introducing a pilot scheme which would see 18-to-24 year-olds who are found in possession of small amounts of cannabis given classes or counselling about the harms of cannabis use, rather than being arrested.

But in what seems to be a concerted effort by the Labour frontbench to look stupid, Labour’s deputy leader has declared we should “shoot terrorists first ask questions second”, which rather raises the question: how you know they are terrorists? Perhaps Angela Rayner should ask Jean Charles de Menezes – an innocent man who was shot dead by the Met Police in a botched operation led by Cressida Dick in 2005.

This is not just a Labour problem.

Who can forget Ian Hislop having to patiently explain to Priti Patel, now the Home Secretary, that you can’t correct miscarriages of justice if you have the death penalty, because “they’d be dead”?

But all joking, and joke politicians, aside, crime is a serious issue in London.

Although down in the last year, violent crime in our city is higher today than it was five years ago. And London still has fewer police officers than it did in 2010.

Two months ago, around the corner from where I live, a boy was stabbed to death in Ashburton Park. Stabbings, some fatal, usually involving boys or young men, have become frequent events around our borough, including at my local tram stop and at the park opposite my son’s school.

Policing, too, has its dangers. It’s less than 18 months since Sgt Matt Ratana was killed at the Croydon custody suite, which Labour’s shadow policing minister and Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones had been due to visit that same September morning.

Jones has been a sensible, if understated, voice on policing; calling for evidence-based policies like the public health approach that has dramatically reduced knife crime in Glasgow.

Understated: Croydon MP Sarah Jones (right) has suggested sensible politics to tackle knife crime

Labour’s position has recently been confused over the position of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, with Jones saying there were “questions to answer” and “mistakes that were made” in the wake of the heavy-handed policing of the Sarah Everard vigil last year.

Prior to the Everard case, Met Police officers had been found to have taken selfies with murder victims Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Everard herself had been kidnapped, raped and murdered by a serving officer, Wayne Couzens, who had been nicknamed “The Rapist” by his police colleagues. Two serving officers, and one former police officer, were charged in the wake of Couzens’ arrest after it was found a group had shared grossly racist and misogynistic messages.

This was not a one-off by a few bad apples. This year, a similar culture was exposed at Charing Cross Police Station, where 14 officers were shown to have shared similar messages, including telling a female colleague they would like to rape her. Nine of those officers are serving in the Metropolitan Police today.

Responding in the House of Commons to the devastating report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into Charing Cross, Jones said the Met “must accept and implement” the IOPC’s 15 recommendations. It’s worth noting that the Metropolitan Police has yet to fully implement all the recommendations of the MacPherson Report following the inquiry into the brutal racist murder of black teen Stephen Lawrence, and that report was published in 1999.

So when Sadiq Khan finally lost patience with Cressida Dick’s failure to improve the culture of the Met, most people were surprised only that it had taken so long. Several London MPs, from Dawn Butler in Brent to Harriet Harman in Peckham, had been calling for Dick to be fired for some time.

Yet the silence from the Labour leadership was deafening. Just a few months earlier the party’s leader, Keir Starmer, had dismissed the concerns of his own race equality advisor Doreen Lawrence – who had called for Dick to go – and insisted he was pleased that the Commissioner’s contract had been renewed by the Home Secretary.

Shortly after Dick’s forced resignation, Sarah Jones was on BBC radio’s World At One reeling off a huge list of areas for improvement including, the “recruitment of officers, training, standards once people are in the force”, as well as social media use, internal reporting and whistleblowing.

London is the most diverse city in the country, and yet the Met Police is still overwhelming a white force that disproportionately targets black and Asian men. A black man is nine times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Steve Reed – when he was rightly campaigning for Seni’s law – said that that case “leads me to believe there is unconscious bias, if not institutional racism within the system”. His predecessor as shadow justice secretary, Tottenham MP David Lammy, wrote an entire report for Theresa May’s government highlighting the institutional racism not just in the police, but throughout the criminal justice system.

Removing Cressida Dick as Met Commissioner won’t solve those problems, but it became clear that leaving her in the post was not doing anything towards that end either. Unfortunately, politicians in recent days have proved how difficult it is to have a serious and practical conversation about policies that might actually reduce crime and tackle institutional racism in our criminal justice system.

Andrew Fisher’s most recent columns for Inside Croydon:

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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5 Responses to We need serious solutions to tackle the capital’s crime crisis

  1. I am not in the least enthusiastic about politicians who say things like ‘Shoot terrorists and ask questions afterwards’. At the very least such behaviour can make the terrorists seem like martyrs in some communities. In any case, isn’t shooting first and asking questions afterwards exactly what terrorists do? Politicians surely have a duty to uphold the rule of law.

    Being tough on crime is an easy way to win cheap votes and headlines. What being tough doesn’t do is to address the causes of most crime – poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunity, poor parenting, poor examples from role models and so on. It’s a slog to deal with the causes of crime, but easy solutions are like a putting a sticking plaster on a wound that’s gone gangrenous already. If being tough on crime actually worked, this country would have one of the lowest prison populations compared with similar countries (unless the people in this country are more dishonest than their peers elsewhere – but I don’t think that is the case).

  2. I’ve a suggestion for Steve, how about recommending that crimes that affect the lives of Croydon Council Tax payers, and those whose housing benefits are cut, are prioritised for police investigation? Here’s another suggestion, what about starting with finding out where the ‘missing’ £73 million went and ensuring that those involved are brought to justice? That might have more traction than pursuing events that happen mainly behind closed doors and, also in the main, harm few. That might be more relevant to what Croydon voters want?

    • Andrew Fisher says:

      There is no missing £73m – it’s how it was spent and accounted for that is in dispute. The way in which was spent might be fraudulent and outside of strict spending rules (still being investigated), but there is no question of defrauding the local taxpayer and embezzlement

  3. I’d like to hear London’s Mayor talk about crime and the shocking rise in stabbings. But his focus seems to be on the Met’s ‘cultural failings’. Those failings are serious and erode confidence but, for heaven’s sake, can we please concentrate on people’s safety? Our last two commissioners appear more like politicians rather than no-nonsense coppers.

  4. Eve Tullett says:

    If they want to catch recreational drug users then they need to start being active in searching people in pubs and clubs. Instead it’s all stop and search on the streets. Recreational drug users know the risks are lower for them because they don’t fit a certain profile… what police officer is going to stop a man or woman in a suit over a kid in a hoody… therein lies the problem.

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