Munira Mirza

Our best weapon

We should all be wary about its overuse, but this controversial tactic is legitimate – and increasingly necessary

According to the latest recorded crime figures in England and Wales, there has been a steep rise in violence. Knife offences are up by 21 per cent in the year to September 2017; in London alone the increase is 30.2 per cent — that’s 13,715 incidents.

How should police deal with this disturbing trend? One view is that they need to target likely offenders, especially through an increase in the use of stop and search. However, this has been resisted by human-rights and anti-racism campaigners, who regard the use of such powers as heavy-handed and intrusive. Tottenham MP David Lammy has been particularly vocal, calling stop and search ‘inherently unfair’ because it is used disproportionately to target BME people.

These campaigners claim there is a better way and that we have much to learn from Scotland, where violent crime has been falling for more than a decade. Knife crime there has dropped by 70 per cent in the past ten years and Glasgow, once dubbed ‘the murder capital of Europe’, saw the most dramatic fall of all. Campaigners say Police Scotland has de-emphasised traditional law enforcement in favour of a more ‘progressive and holistic approach’, and has urged us to do the same.

The Guardian praised Police Scotland’s decision to treat knife crime as ‘a public health issue rather than simply a police matter’, concluding that this shows ‘there needs to be a shift in understanding of the root causes of the problem’.

Vice magazine argued that the Scottish experience shows how a ‘radical change in strategy is needed’ while swiping at the ‘get-tough posturing’ of those in England who would bring back stop and search. It cited the words of the acting director of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), Will Linden, who said: ‘The carrot approach has been much more important than the stick for us in Scotland… the evidence suggests scare tactics don’t work.

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