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Chair of Islington's stop and search monitoring board highlights community's role in tackling serious youth violence

PUBLISHED: 13:50 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:59 10 April 2019

Sheri Lawal. Picture: Choices

Sheri Lawal. Picture: Choices

Archant

Every month Sheri Lawal goes to Islington Police Station to view body-cam footage of officers carrying out stop and search operations.

The independent community group, which she has chaired since October, is responsible for making sure cops are following the laws on how to carry out the searches, a delicate tactic used to get drugs, or more commonly weapons, off the streets.

Stop and search has always divided opinion due to accusations of racial profiling. In 2017/18, black people were nine-and-a-half times as likely to be stopped as white people, a figure on the increase.

So the group, supported by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), plays an important role, especially in the current climate of stabbings and serious youth violence taking place on an almost daily basis.

“We meet once a month, and try and meet monthly with police,” Sheri told the Gazette. “We’ll go to the station and look at reports and redacted data around stop and search and make sure it’s lawful and being done in accordance with the law.

“We select cases randomly and police will also give us figures for each month. If we find things we think can be acted on they will take them away and work on it.

“Not every police officer is going to remember every single law but it’s our job to make sure they are.”

Sheri’s stance on stop and search is philosophical, as you’d expect.

“Police are under a lot of pressure,” she said. “Especially in the current climate where there’s a lot of young people being killed. I think as long as it’s done correctly and lawfully and not an abuse of the law then they have to do what they have to do.”

Sheri is the founder of Choices in St John’s Way, Archway, which she launched in 2010 to help disadvantaged people into work. Her interest in community engagement began when working for housing associations in Brent and witnessing the damage done by anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs).

She also sits on the Elthorne Pride board, Islington Faith Forum, the Safer Neighbourhood Board and the Journey to Justice Committee, which seeks to empower people to take action for social justice.

So she’s well placed to comment on how to tackle the serious youth violence taking place in the borough.

“It’s about having more community engagement,” she said. “I’m not sure increasing stop and search will reduce the killing. What’s needed is a lot more investment in young people and people working together – community groups, voluntary organisations, mental health and homelessness [groups]. There’s also stuff around exclusions and pupil referral units. Prevention is better than a cure.”

Specifically, Sheri thinks programmes in schools highlighting the realities of knife crime can work, and has seen first hand how children engage when police, St John Ambulance volunteers, prison staff and magistrates come in for sessions. The key is to get more funding to roll out more programmes of that kind.

The community also has a part to play in helping gather intelligence on who is committing crimes, Sheri believes. After a stabbing police will now often implement a Section 60 order, giving them increased stop and search powers in a specific postcode area.

Sheri says that can only be a success if they have good intelligence in the first place.

“The stop and search needs to lead to an arrest or a confiscation of guns or knives. If it’s not then the people committing the crime are still on the streets. “For Section 60s to work they need more effective intelligence and to get that they need to do more community engagement. They need to make communities feel more confident in them. Nobody wants to wake up to another story about another young person having lost their lives.”

The stop and search group is looking for more members. Anyone who wants to join or find out more information can email Sheri at ichairsscmg@gmail.com.

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