I have been working for some time to improve the quality of communications to young people on knife crime.
The Police and Crime Committee found in its recent report on serious youth violence that fear of knife crime is a strong driver of young people’s likelihood to carry a knife, and young people at the Mayor’s Knife Crime Summit last year also said the fear of danger is a driving factor for carrying weapons.
Communication to young people on this issue therefore needs to be careful to be positive, to promote the benefits of avoiding weapons and to avoid communication that increases fear.
I’ve been pressing on this in Mayor’s questions and in the Police and Crime Committee all year, and pointing out examples like the Ben Kinsella Trust, whose effective lessons about knife crime focus on the consequences not the weapons or the gore, and are suitable for children of young ages.
I’m very pleased to see the Mayor’s new online campaign aimed at young Londoners, London Needs You Alive, take this on board. The video and the core message of this campaign are aimed at building up their confidence not a picture of unsafe streets that could make the problem worse.
I recently met a group of young people at the Winch youth centre in Camden, and asked them whether they had seen the new campaign, which was launched in mid November. About half of them said they had seen the video, which is not bad in terms of reach for just a few weeks.
However, this positive message is not yet reflected in what the Met themselves are putting out to the public. I see the police at all levels continually promoting messages about knife crime that show weapons in alarming ways, including to children.
At the Assembly meeting on policing just before Christmas, I had the chance to ask the Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, directly about what the police are doing to support the Mayor’s positive campaign.
I challenged her about the number of photos of knives that I see being shared by police officers on social media, particularly after they carry out Operation Sceptre knife sweeps in local areas. Far too often these officers post photos of the biggest, scariest knives they have recovered in these sweeps and, from speaking with local officers, they seem to have had no guidance at all about how to communicate effectively.
Watch my questions and answers here:
I have repeatedly asked senior officers if the Met have issued any guidance for releasing images of weapons, and I pushed the Commissioner again to issue evidence-based information to press officers and local police about posting images of weapons – particularly large knives – online.
I had something even more disturbing to ask about, however. Recently I was horrified to see images being shared of police showing very graphic photos of weapons to what appears to be a group of primary age children. This was in a social media post by Hackney MPS in October, and I was shocked at the age of the children and couldn’t believe this was an appropriate way to help them make a positive choice to avoid knives.
I wrote to the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime about this in November and she has said she will ask the police to look into it, but I am not hopeful as the Commissioner’s answers during the Assembly meeting were mainly to defend showing these kinds of images to young children.
I think the Mayor and the rest of the Assembly think differently and agree with me, however. Both Florence Eshalomi from Labour and Shaun Bailey from the Conservatives added their voices to my concerns during the meeting, and I hope that the Mayor will help us change the police’s tactics on this and get some proper guidelines on the best ways to communicate with young Londoners of different ages about knife crime – without increasing fear.