On Wednesday 21st August I spent the day with local residents, the police and other partners like Job Centre Plus, the Fire Brigade and Youth organisations taking part in a day of action to crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour in Brixton.
The levels of robbery, theft, begging and violence are unacceptable and residents tell us all the time that crime and anti-social behaviour is the issue that concerns them most. It’s not right that people feel unable to walk freely in their area without threat or intimidation.
But tackling the problem isn’t just an issue for the police and Council, and we will never be able to solve them on our own. Communities themselves need to pull together to say enough is enough. Communities need to have the skills and tools to help tackle these issues, and most importantly they need to know they are not on their own – that their friends and neighbours, as well as the Police, the Council, Councillors and the voluntary sector is there to help. We need to work hard together to get on top of the problem.
Communities know the problems in their neighbourhoods, they see them, hear them and experience them, but too often they do not see the work being done by the Council or the Police to tackle them. So getting them involved shows them that we do take their priorities seriously and are serious about solving them, and I am confident that it will give confidence to communities to be part of the solution too.
Gang violence in some parts of Lambeth are a particular concern. Local gangs have been known to hide weapons in public places to avoid being arrested for carrying them in the streets. So one of the things we did yesterday – for the first time ever in London – was arrange for Trident officers to give local residents training in carrying out weapons sweeps. We want them to know what to look for, what to do if a weapon is found and the importance of preserving evidence.
As well as weapons sweeps, knife test purchasing, mobile CCTV, car number plate checks and a knife amnesty were all in operation yesterday. We sent out a clear message that anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and robbery will not be tolerated in our town.
But we also wanted to send out another message to people in gangs: there is a way out. That’s why we arranged for the Job Centre and local charities like Options 4 Change and Word 4 Weapons to come down and offer help and advice to young people on job hunting and the opportunities that are available to them.
Lambeth’s Labour Council is working hard to support young people in the borough, running a range of initiatives including mentoring schemes, outreach and apprenticeships for disaffected youngsters. Despite the huge financial pressures we’re under, we’re determined to protect youth services to ensure youngsters can climb as high as their hard work, talent and potential can carry them.
Because the truth is, the most effective way to tackle crime in the long run is not through knife sweeps or number plate checks, but to make sure that young people believe there is a genuine alternative to joining a gang.