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16 October 2018
Why has Croydon Labour been so slow to grasp the initiative on crime?

Addiscombe activist Joseph Lee writes about crime in Croydon - and what the Council needs to do about it.

There is no easy solution to gang-related crime but boroughs across the capital have realised that placing specialist youth workers into A&E wards can make a transformative impact. But why has Croydon’s Labour council been so slow to grasp the initiative on this?

It’s no secret that knife crime is on the rise in London. But that fact it’s no surprise doesn’t make it any less shocking. In the last year, the Met has recorded an increase of 16% in gang related violence and tragically, Croydon has seen first-hand how this rise is ripping apart the lives of too many of our young people.

Public debate has naturally – and helpfully - turned to what the causes might be. Has social media made it easier for gangs to organise quickly? Are aspects of popular culture such as ‘drill music’ encouraging unhelpful behaviours? Does the very talk of the problem cause young people to arm themselves in self-defence? No doubt each of these elements had played their part.

The real question however, is how we find a solution. And simply removing dangerous weapons from young people will not be enough. The societal triggers that drive our youth into the arms of gangs – family and community break down, poverty, isolation and a lack of aspiration – need to be addressed.

The police are to be commended for recognising that a ‘law and order approach’ will not – in light of the above – be a sufficient response in and of itself (which is not to say that an effective law and order response is not vital). A culture of fear and mistrust between the police and youngsters is not in society’s best interest and the Met has been wise to pursue a ‘multi-agency’ approach (where different arms of the public sector work together with charities and community groups to find a joined up solution to big problems).

As such, the role of schools has increased exponentially in recent years. From occasionally knife arches at the school gate to lessons about staying safe and direct intervention, teachers are playing more than their part in trying to keep youngsters free from harm. Many young people have a high degree of trust in their teachers and it is wise to tap into that in trying to help disrupt gang culture. However, schools cannot be the entire solution. Not only will this overwhelm our educators who have a big enough job to do in raising standards and aspiration – it also asks them to become responsible for a whole new strand of work that they have never been trained for.

For boroughs with high levels of gang-related crime, it is engaging our invaluable hospitals that holds the key to the next level of transformation. This has been realised by some boroughs like Enfield and Southwark who invest in specialist A&E services that creates direct intervention into the lives of young people and their families effected by gang crime. But despite the problems we struggle with locally, Croydon Council has been slow off the mark in supporting the introduction of a similar service in Croydon University Hospital.

Specialist A&E services operate a model which is fundamentally simply but remarkably successful. Every day, the Hospital team’s first responsibility is to establish the identify of the young people injured by violence by using hospital admission records. When the young person’s eligibility for the programme has been established, a youth workers aims to meet them at their bedside. At this point, they start to build the system of trust that affirmed the advice they give the young person on the effects of post-traumatic stress. The team relies upon leveraging a post-trauma window of opportunity, this is “the teachable moment” is when someone is more susceptible to take on board how they can reduce their risk of further trauma.

A number of trusted youthwork charities offer this service including ‘Redthread’ and Oasis, which is already a leading education provider in the borough. Earlier this year, the Croydon Conservative manifesto included a pledge to introduce such a service to CUH but disappointingly, this is a positive suggestion that the Labour council has failed to act on.

As I write these words, I can also hear the excuses from Croydon Labour being shouted back at me. “Money, money, money,” I hear them cry. “How can we do anything when faced with an onslaught of government cuts.”

But this response simply doesn’t cut it. The Conservatives were confident about being able to roll this out in our fully costed manifesto. Also the Labour council is currently making staggering sums of public money available for productions featuring sex toys. I’ll leave it up to others to decide if this is a good use of funds – but surely all would agree that the safety of our young people should come first?

It should also be noted that the Mayor of London has recently announced that £1.4million will be granted to health-based responses to gang crime. While we should not let the Mayor use this ‘too little, too late’ response to cover up the fact that under his watch we have come dangerously close to losing control of the streets, the Labour council should be beating down his door for access to the cash. But there is simply no evidence that they are.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the factors that influence gang related crime are complicated and multi-faceted. But by engaging the health sector and placing specialist youth workers into our A&E department, our borough can take a leap forward in solving this problem and in creating a safer environment in which our young people can grow.

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