The Monday morning press release from City Hall announces a new Sadiq Khan initiative for tackling knife crime. It involves the GPS tagging of potential re-offenders. But tagging is already happening in some parts of the city. So what is different about this one and how new is it?
The scheme will see up to 100 people aged over 18 who have been jailed for a variety of different crimes involving knives fitted with tagging devices on their release from custody in a London prison. The offences in question include robbery, wounding, grievous bodily harm, aggravated burglary and simple knife possession. It will run for a year, starting next week, affecting offenders released into Lewisham, Lambeth, Croydon and Southwark.
The tags will be fitted to offenders thought most likely to reoffend, and will enable their spatial movements to be tracked. A company called Buddi will operate the system and be responsible for informing the local borough police if any of those tagged were in the vicinity of a crime reported to them. The aims are to lessen the chances of reoffending, assist with rehabilitation and improve detection rates (presumably if the tagged person was indeed involved in a crime he or she was seen to be in the vicinity of).
The use of tagging is, of course, nothing new – electronic monitoring of different kinds has been happening in England and Wales for at least 20 years.
In London under Mayor Khan, a 12-month GPS tagging pilot applied to prolific re-offenders of various kinds – not including knife-related crimes – was launched in March 2017 as a component of community or suspended sentences. It was expected to affect 75-100 people living in eight boroughs: Camden, Enfield, Haringey, Islington, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
In this project, an alert was sounded if someone moved out of satellite range. One year later, tags had been imposed on 73 people and 41 of them had, as it were, completed the course. Of those, 23 had done so without breaking the terms and 21 had not.
Last March, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) decided to extend and develop it for another year at a cost of £306,000, and in October it was widened to include first-time knife crime offenders (as opposed to prolific re-offenders) who had been given community sentences.
The main difference between this and the scheme for four South London boroughs announced today is that it is designed specifically for people who have been given jail sentences for crimes involving knifes and are thought likely to commit further ones. City Hall says this move follows encouraging feedback from the widening of the earlier tagging pilot to first-time knife offenders who weren’t jailed.
When the eight borough re-offenders pilot was launched two years ago, Napo, the probation officers’ union, told the BBC that while it welcomed the use of new technologies, it had misgivings about the cost of tagging schemes and the efficiency of companies that had run them. However, City Hall’s press release quotes Alice Burrows, a London probation officer who has been involved with MOPAC’s first GPS pilot, saying she’s found the tagging being used now “hugely beneficial”. It will be interesting to see what results the new pilot scheme achieves.
The Mayor’s London Knife Crime Strategy document can be read here.