Andy Cook is Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice.
This week is law and order week, with the Government re-booting its domestic narrative using a series of tough on crime messages. It would be easy to dismiss this as simply managing a party hungry to see the benefits of a sizeable Conservative majority. Getting tough on crime isn’t just red-meat to the party faithful; it’s fundamental to any ambition to re-build local economies. You can’t even begin to spread opportunity or prosperity if the streets around you are too dangerous to walk. It’s a social justice issue, every but as much as it is about public safety. We’ve seen an upward national trend of offenders being caught repeatedly carrying knives over the last ten years, and in our major cities, especially London, this is becoming the norm in neighbourhoods that have been left behind.
That’s why we should cheer the announcement of a new form of stop and search which targets those carrying knives or weapons intent on doing harm to others. What’s more, these new powers to intervene are backed by the public and, crucially, from all white and non-white voters. If you live on a street where you children stand a good chance of being stabbed by someone carrying a knife, you’re going to support measures to put an end to the violence on your door-step. Don’t listen to the fashionable ‘commentariat’; this is a bold and popular move, even in London the polling is clear-cut with fewer than one in 10 Londoners actively opposing ‘stop and search’ powers. We found just 15 per cent of non-white Londoners and eight per cent of white Londoners opposed a new form of ‘suspicionless’ stop and search for limited periods in areas they believe will experience serious violence.
These Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), which were a manifesto commitment, were first proposed by the Centre for Social Justice in our 2018 report, It Can Be Stopped.
SVROs are designed to ensure repeat offenders are more likely to be caught and put in prison. SVROs send a strong message that violence and carrying weapons can and will be stopped. SVROs apply to individuals previously convicted of carrying a knife or an offensive weapon, including those who have received non-custodial sentences such as community orders or suspended sentences. The orders would be imposed by a court, which could also decide on the exact length of the order. Police are then given the powers they need to stop and search those who are subject to an SVRO to check if they are unlawfully carrying a knife or offensive weapon again.
It takes us a step close to addressing the fundamental issue that came from the huge collapse in stop and search: a significant minority of people who feel they can carry weapons without reasonable fear of detection. This measure backs the police to take action at a time when they need a government on their side to make our streets safer. It would require those most likely to possess a weapon after being sentenced, on contact with police, to prove to them they aren’t carrying one or be subjected to a search.
When we looked into this issue we found too many police officers, especially newer recruits, reluctant to use the powers given to them. After the largest and most sustained collapse in stop and search since records began, the effect of such a targeted intervention on gangsters used to carrying and using weapons is an important message to officers patrolling our streets that we understand they need to hear support for stepping in.
The Government’s commitment to rolling out SVROs is one of the many tools we need to land a knock-out blow required to change things on our increasingly violent streets. There’s £70million announced to develop Violence Reduction Units to divert people away from crime and changing the law to make it a legal requirement for public bodies to work together to address the root causes of serious violence. It’s not enough, we’ll be calling for bigger investment in years to come but it is the right move.
The Government trumpeted its intent to recruit an extra 20,000 bobbies on the beat, a bold vote winning move. But at the time we said it wasn’t enough if it didn’t come with the power and confidence to step in and do the job they were recruited for. Our research tells us that these measures are supported by the great majority of people living in some of our most deprived communities, who want to see the scourge of knife crime and the routine carrying of weapons brought to an end. The Home Secretary should feel emboldened to carry on and do just that.