Lib Peck is leader of Lambeth Council and deputy chair and executive member for crime and public protection of London Councils. This article is a slightly edited version of a speech she gave at Wednesday’s knife crime summit convened by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. She was speaking in her London Councils capacity.
One of the hardest things to do as a council leader is meet the mother of a young person killed in your borough, to look into her eyes, see her profound and permanent sadness reflected back, and start to understand that in one frenzied moment of violence all the hopes and aspirations of her family have been extinguished – and to feel that as a resident of Lambeth and as leader of its council, that we all, society as a whole, have spectacularly failed.
That is the situation we as members of our local community, wherever we are, have had to confront far too regularly since the start of this year. We all know that sympathy is not enough. So, what do we do about it?
First, we need action and leadership – leadership that works with and supports the strong leadership often shown in the aftermath of terrible murders by bereaved mothers themselves. In Lambeth, I think of Tracey Ford who set up a foundation after her son was killed at Streatham Ice Rink, or of Lorraine Jones of Dwaynamics, who honoured her son’s passion for boxing by expanding his club and working with the police.
Second, we need that response to address the challenge of the current crisis alongside a longer-term plan of action. The steep increase in knife crime over this year requires immediate action. We need to provide community reassurance and more police, get weapons off the street and do intensive work with victims and perpetrators.
But, in parallel, we also need a long term vision and plan, one that starts by unpicking the complex and multi-faceted problems that have led to the normalisation of violence. Essentially, let’s see knife crime as symptom of a much greater underlying series of problems.
To do that, we really need to acknowledge the different factors that drive violence in different localities. In some areas, there are significant changes in the drugs market. Waltham Forest has recently published an illuminating report on how it functions there. In other places, social media plays more of a role. Let’s be honest, we won’t find a single factor that works in all places. London Councils is collecting evidence of what works in different localities.
Earlier this month we brought together chief executives of children services, health professionals and community safety to draw up a package of resources that the boroughs can draw on. And we know that, whatever else it requires to be effective, partnership is key – a “whole system” approach, a joined-up service.
That could be of the type in Camden, where they have established a Youth Safety Taskforce, bringing together a broad alliance of statutory services, local schools, parents and young people to review all youth services and social media. Or it could be as in Hackney or Westminster, there they’ve been drawing on some of the best anti-gang prevention practices and re-offending strategies, and targeting hot spots.
Or there is Lewisham, where the approach has been a community-based trauma-informed restorative model. In plain language this means a recognition that to end a cycle of violence the impact and language around trauma and blame needs to change.
In my borough, Lambeth, we put community at the centre of a public health approach. We have prioritised this work and placed it at the heart of the council, looking at the causes of violence in our borough with health professionals, and recognising the role of the community in addressing them.
Each borough will have its own drivers and its own landscape. But we all need to draw on best practice. And we have to be honest and brave. We must be honest with partners in a continuing drive for improvements, including the challenge of getting real data and analytical support from the police and about the capacity of the public services. And we must be brave enough to articulate and defend preventative services.
We must develop borough responses that reflect local circumstances, but also work cross-London and cross-party to end this scourge. There is no monopoly of good ideas. And we all need imagination, determination and drive to end this horrible situation.