Simple enforcement is not enough to fight knife crime, say top cops

Reporter, Mary O'Connor speaking to PCSO George Tsendis, Constble, Angus Marshall and Inspector Rich

Reporter, Mary O'Connor speaking to PCSO George Tsendis, Constble, Angus Marshall and Inspector Richard Padwell on the Andover Estate. - Credit: Vickie Flores

Senior police officers speak to reporter Mary O’Connor about the wide-ranging strategies needed to combat the surge in knife violence in Islington – including tough measures to evict families with youngsters caught up in crime

Senior members of Islington Police have vowed to target knife-related violence with “the full force of the law” in response to a recent spate of stabbings in the borough.

There have been 12 knife attacks in Islington since the end of April, including that on 18-year-old Stefan Appleton, who died from his injuries after being stabbed in Canonbury in June.

Earlier in the year, 15-year-old Alan Cartwright was stabbed to death in Caledonian Road.

Det Supt Stuart Ryan, the lead on the borough’s knife crime strategy, stressed the need for an innovative, multi-layered approach in tackling the changing nature of the problem.

“Ten years ago, enforcement might have been enough to tackle the issues. But now, we’re seeing more young people carrying knives due to a number of reasons – whether it’s bravado or fear, and the crimes being committed are becoming more complex.

“Policing has to change accordingly, it’s about getting into their heads and promoting longer term education surrounding the consequences, working with partners like A&E units and minimising knife crime in the borough.”

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Indeed, officers, under the leadership of Borough Commander Chf Sup Catherine Roper, are using a three pronged approach involving “engagement, enforcement and prevention.” It is in collaboration with a range of partners, including the council, charities and health experts, to make Islington’s streets safer for everyone.

One of the latest strategies police say has been successful is the use of eviction orders, in partnership with the council, to move young people involved or likely to become involved in knife crime to another borough, along with their families.

He said: “Evicting the family of a young person involved in knife crime or any other violence really is the last resort. All the partners involved – the police, the council, social services – will have made many attempts to engage with the parents of the person and try and bring them on board. In the past, families have become obstructive to what we’re trying to do – which is just wanting to keep everyone safe.”

And the strategy does deliver results, according to Insp Richard Padwell, head of the east cluster Safer Neighbourhoods Team.

In recent months, there have been six evictions across his cluster alone, including two in Highbury Quadrant, which has previously been subject to two police dispersal orders in six months to combat anti-social behaviour.

The Andover estate, which saw a double stabbing at the beginning of July, also had two evictions and there were a further two on the Mayville Estate in Newington Green.

Insp Padwell said: “It’s all about sending out the message that Islington is no place for knife crime or criminality of any kind, it will not be tolerated.”

Det Ryan is keen to see wider use of the strategy to prevent further offences taking place in light of its success. He said: “It will put the young person themselves into another borough and it will take them out of the area and limit their ability to access previous avenues to offending.”

Much of the Islington police strategy in driving down knife crime is concerned with longer term youth education and improving public confidence.

Dedicated schools officers engaging with students about the dangers of carrying knives and belonging to gangs, as well as conducting random searches, have been met with positive feedback from young people, said Insp Padwell.

“The kids who have nothing to hide don’t have a problem with us searching them – we would obviously do it sensitively.”

Also at the forefront of this is an increased visiblity of officers across Islington, supported by targeted ‘surges.’

Surges, explains Insp Padwell, are operations co-ordinated with specialist units including the Territorial Support Group (TSG), the Trident Gangs Unit and Neighbourhood Policing Teams. They involve police making themselves a strong presence within a given area and using measures such as weapons sweeps and search powers to prevent knife crimes occurring.

“A large part of our surges is also about collecting and collating intelligence. Dedicated PCSOs (police support officers) are very important here because they know the area in so much depth that they can talk to people and gain their trust and support in what we’re trying to do,” said Insp Padwell.

In a walkabout of the east cluster area, which includes Highbury East, West and Finsbury Park, PCSO George Tsendis, who has been the dedicated officer for Finsbury Park ward for 11 years, along with dedicated Pc Angus Marshall, said that it was crucial not to recognise work in the community on estates like the Andover and to not generalise it because of the recent stabbings.

While Det Ryan is encouraged by initial results, he is decisive about the future steps. He said: “Firstly it is about gaining the confidence of young people to tell us about offences that may have happened, any fears they might have, or whether they’re carrying knives – it’s about getting them on board to change things. Secondly, we have to use our partners to change things for the young people, it’s about how we and other authorities can make them feel safer.

“And lastly it’s about getting into the minds of the parents and carers of these young people – we want them to know what is going on in the lives of their children and have them on board too.”