Hammersmith youth worker says only an investment in services will help lower crime rates

BBC Local Democracy Reporter

A youth worker has warned against relying on stop and search to reduce violent crime, after use of the method by police almost doubled in West London.

New data from the Met shows that suspected drug offences are the main reasons police are giving for carrying out searches in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Across the three areas, which are policed as the Central West Command Unit, there were about 14,000 stop and search cases between January and July this year, whereas in the first six months of 2018 there were just over 8,000.

In London as a whole, the first half of 2019 has seen more than 23,000 stop and search cases, compared to 11,000 last year.

Three young lives have been lost to violent crime in the boroughs this year.

Ayub Hassan, 17, from Shepherd’s Bush was murdered in North End Road in March, while Zahir Visiter, 25, was stabbed to death outside his family’s flat in St John’s Wood that same month. Nathaniel Armstrong, 29, from Fulham, was fatally stabbed in June.

But Michael Dipple, a youth worker in Hammersmith, who used to run the Stowe Centre youth club in North Paddington before it closed, said: “Long-term investment in youth services is the only way to reduce youth crime.

“The solution isn’t just about putting thousands more police on the streets and inflating the criminal justice system.

“So it doesn’t surprise me that the problem has been getting worse.”

The spike in stop and search also comes after several years where violent crime has risen in cities across Britain, followed by politicians, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, encouraging its use.

Comparing the rates of stop and search usage in the three boroughs, Westminster was far ahead due to drug-related crime in the West End.

The borough as a whole has had 7,639 stop and search cases so far this year, compared with 3,972 for January to June 2018.

Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest London borough, saw stop and search incidents rise from 2,377, to 3,062.

January to July in Hammersmith and Fulham this year saw 3,219 stop and search cases, up from 1,777 in the first half of 2018.

In Westminster, 23 per cent of all stop and search cases were when officers thought a suspect was carrying stolen items, such as from pickpocketing, while in Hammersmith and Fulham, 26 per cent of cases were associated with carrying a knife, or “pointed” weapon.

Stop and search cases linked to knifes were 14 per cent in Westminster, and 18 per cent in Kensington and Chelsea.

In June, police deputy commissioner Sir Steve House said stop and search usage had quadrupled across London since 2017.

Of the suspects who were searched so far this year, police recorded that 37 per cent were of a “white” ethnic appearance, while 41 per cent were of “black” ethnic appearance. In all 56 per cent were aged 15-24.

The increase has been driven by the use of Section 60 orders.

Police use the orders to enforce curfews and to carry-out indiscriminate stop and search in a designated area for short periods of time, usually following a serious incident, or when police have intelligence that violence could flare up.

On Section 60 orders, Mr Dipple said: “In the short term, I’m sure using them with stop and search does make residents feel safer, and of course there does need to be a strong

response after any serious incident. But it’s not the solution.”

Sajid Javid, who was Home Secretary under Theresa May but recently appointed Chancellor by Boris Johnson, had previously said: “I have decided to increase the powers that are available to the police to use stop and search. It’s a very important tool.”

Sadiq Khan recently revealed on LBC that he was searched as a child growing up in Tooting, South London.

He went on to say: “One of the reasons why we’ve got body-worn video [on police officers] is because stop and search is a very useful tool for our police.

“The police need to have confidence that when they’re doing it, there’s not going to be a vexatious complaint. But also the public needs to know that the police are going to use it ethically.”

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