Use more community organisations to prevent knife crime now

Ade Sawyerr argues that it is up to us as individuals and members of community organisations to be vocal, to be willing to get involved and to ensure the right political and economic structures are put in place to tackle knife and gun crime.

Youth crime has always been with us in London but has become more topical in recent times because of the increased levels of deaths and serious injuries involving young people. Youth crime has escalated from the use of fisticuffs to more violent acts of stabbing and shooting as the ‘modus operandi’ to settle most arguments and disagreements. Now the must-have accessories are more often than not, knives and guns and possession is often fuelled by gangs, drugs, honour and respect issues.
The perpetrators of these severe forms of crime are getting younger by the day.   The situation is more complex but some simple reasons for this escalation are that:

  • Young people are trying to formulate their own ways of dealing with the bullies and some young people carry knives because they think they will look tough which will be a deterrent.
  • It is no longer cool to report bullying to their parents or the right authorities because their perception is that the authorities cannot protect them.
  • Some of these young people seek protection in gangs where peer pressure is exerted on them through the initiation, honour and loyalty to the gang and end up ready to avenge wrongs done to their collective or prove how tough they are – a vicious herd instinct comes into play.

The problems with carrying guns and knives is that there is a high probability that they will be used with disatrous consequencies for all in the community. The irony is that the perpetrators of knife crimes are also more likely to be victims of crime themselves.

The election of a new mayor in the capital presents a real opportunity for past policies to be reviewed, bearing in mind that ‘quick fixes and quick wins’ have not been ineffective in tackling crime. A one size fits all approach will also not work because enduring solutions need to be carefully formulated.
Without the involvement of community groups working in concerted action with public agencies and the young people themselves, the issue will remain topical and more knee-jerk reactions will waste a lot of resources without dealing with the core issues.
Past initiatives that concentrated on the criminal justice system, police, prison and probation as tools with which youth crime can be tackled successfully, do not seem to be working. Where people of African Caribbean and Asian descent are concerned they have been detrimental and only resulted in harassing young people and turning some of the young ones into hardened criminals who will reoffend time and again.
The suggestion that tough sentencing will deter young people from carrying knives remains unproven, so we must now look to more imaginative methods since more realistic solutions lie in focussing on prevention.. Tough sentencing is a stage too late and will happen when people have already been killed. Besides, current statistics show that there are as many young black people going to jail as are going into university, a situation that needs to be addressed and redressed.
Traditional faith based organisation that are used for diversion work also have to engage in outreach work to get at the young people. The ‘bad’ boys are outside the radar of the ‘do good’ organisations, religion is not a central part of their family lives any longer. Specialist organisations dedicated to diversion, youth offending and rehabilitation are not  set up to work with ordinary young people but with young people who are ‘at risk’ of offending or who have started doing so.
In the face of these specialist agencies not been able to successfully deal withthe issues and successfully resolve the problems, a London-wide comprehensive approach using voluntary and community organisations is now being advocated.
Community organisations are best placed to be part of the solution to this problem because they have always been at the forefront of working with public agencies to deal with seeminly intractable problems. Besides they know their communities better and have superior intelligence to deal with issues.  Indeed generalist welfare organisations who work with parents, young people, old people are better able in dealing with such issues that affect the communities as a whole.  These are the organisations that people turn to in order to be signposted to specific specialist organisations and they tend to better attuned to the pulse of the people.  They will be better at creating awareness because of the skills in providing support over the years.
Tasking these organisations to help tackle the problem in a more positive way is also asking for a mixture of approaches, different set of incentives that will include not only the necessary resources but also finding non financil methods for rewarding them for closer collaboration.
Robust policy work must  underpin and inform any new initiative and the projects arising out of these must be coherent and coordinated. Research into the underlying causes of gun and youth crime is necessary to establish why these serious crimes are on the increase and along with this should be a general survey of the needs of young people. Young people must inform the policy if it will help resolve their problems; the government agenda on Every Child Matters, takes as one of its central strategies, the need to involve young people in the decision making process.
Evaluative capacity must be built into the projects from the onset so that the content and processes for completing the projects are clearly outlined with proper delineation of the outputs and outcomes. Evaluations of existing crime prevention and rehabilitation interventions good practice case studies should inform present action.
A database with firm baseline information and targets that should be met and indicators for measuring these should be collected as part of the pre-project documentation so that in each borough and London wide it is clear what the projects should be working to accomplish. The objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable realistic and time bound. This is important because in the fight against crime we must know whether or not we are winning and when to change tactics.
Delivery organisations must work hand in hand in a formalised way with policy makers to ensure that the projects work in a seamless way to achieve all objectives. The structures for both internal and external communication must be made explicit and a stakeholder’s charter must be in place that determines and regulates the terms of engagement of all parties involved.
Training for all community organisations involved in the programme must be delivered in a modular flexible way and should not be limited to the practice of crime prevention and rehabilitation but must extend to how these organisations taking part in the project can develop and seek funding for innovative projects that will work, can be evaluated and touted as good practice guides. Toolkits for assisting grassroots organisations and other interested professionals and decision makers would be useful in identifying what needs to be done to reduce crime especially amongst the youth and to deal head on with violent crime relating to knives and guns within the black community.
The policy must be accessible to all, community organisations, young people, parents and the general public. A website would be a useful portal; it could be based along the lines of social and cultural marketing amongst young people and could include blog spots that would encourage enable young people to not only share ideas in an uninhibited way but also to do so in a controlled positive and constructive way. The site would be a useful repository of information on crime to include statistics, policy, projects on the ground and information about recommended interventions. An online newsletter will also provide organisations that are involved in implementing practical projects on the ground with further information and should also serve as their mouth piece for sharing information.
Whilst articles must be published regularly in the mainstream, youth and ethnic press, to inform all about what the authorities are doing to resolve the problem and how all can help, there must be other ways in which this information on the project can be disseminated to all.
Events to engage young people to help harness their potential, to provide opportunities for leadership and self development, to encourage them to share in and contribute to the wider economic and social benefits which society has to offer should be a hall mark of this crackling crime initiative.
The Mayor must provide the political will to ensure the issue of crime is taken seriously by all London authorities. It is up to the Mayor to implement and maintain that promise and to do the background work and come up with what he intends to see in a youth crime free zone in London.
Community organisations undoubtedly have a useful role to play in the resolution of youth crime – they must however be given the opportunity and provided with the necessary support to enable them to participate in a meaningful way.
Concerted action by people who want to create a better society where our children and young people can go about their daily lives without constant fear must be implemented.
It up to us to as individuals and members of community organisations to be vocal, to be willing to get involved and to ensure the right political and economic structures are put in place to enable such groups to help him to solve the problems on crime.
Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy providing consultancy, training and research that focuses on strategies for black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on political, economic and social, and development issues. He can be contacted through www.equinoxconsulting.net
This article was originally published at http://www.tmponline.org/2008/07/25/use-more-community-organisations-to-prevent-knife-crime-now/

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!

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