In the Media

Crime in London is a tale of two cities | Dave Hill

PUBLISHED November 13, 2011

For most Londoners the capital has become safer over the past decade. But violent crime afflicts a small percentage of people There are two stories about crime in London. One is the big story that nobody believes. The other is the small one that is mostly ignored. The big one no one believes is that for 10 years most people in the capital have been becoming less and less likely to be victims of an offence . By that measure we Londoners should be dancing in the streets, yet we often seem more fearful of those streets than ever. That fear may be connected to the smaller crime story that is mostly ignored. I say mostly because now and then we notice it a lot, such as earlier this year when a young man was stabbed to death on a street corner in Tottenham and when three teenage girls, one holding a baby, were wounded in a drive-by gun attack in north Westminster . August's rioting in London made that smaller crime story seem enormous for a while, with news machines disgorging frightening images of burning, looting and confrontations with police. Even so, the small crime story remains small. It is small in the sense that day in, day out, it tells of only a small percentage of London's people, and those people are poor and do not vote. Many are young, becoming part of that small crime story even before they have left primary school. The small crime story is often invisible to those who live outside it, yet it's becoming ? has already become ? an ingrained strand of the capital's vast and otherwise triumphant narrative. It can be detected in Metropolitan police statistics, which show more teenagers and young adults injured with knives over the past three years , more knife-enabled crime of every kind and a small but steady rise in serious violent offences against the under-20s . All agree that such crimes are under-reported. The London mayor's 2008 youth policy document acknowledges that victims are often reluctant to go to the police, perhaps fearing reprisals from their attackers, perhaps because they are involved in crime themselves. The small crime story also emerges in accounts of changes in the youth cultures of poor London neighbourhoods. In a submission to the Commons home affairs select committee, a north London resident, versed in the ways of his local streets for decades, has described a police-driven withdrawal from "frontlines", where self-help community activism and drug hustling overlapped, to "endz" ? bits of home territory, such as neighbourhoods or estates ? that provide safety in identities based on belonging to and defending urban turf. Such have been the pre-conditions for the emergence of gangs and postcode wars and absurd, tragic rivalries expressed through goading YouTube videos and the occasional blade through the heart ? those, and a ground-in, defensive mentality cemented by a bewildered disconnection from the social codes of conduct to which most of us adhere. Young people from these worlds, be they grafting in the underworld economy, or growing up in its shadow, don't get out much: their London is not a rich and varied metropolis but a square of an A-to-Z. For their middle-class peers, to take a bus from E5 to N16 is not to trespass dangerously on enemy territory (or maybe just imagine that it is). For other local kids, it absolutely is. You can't just police this stuff away. You can't fix it by levelling council estates, a Tory non-solution underpinned by a covetous appreciation of the value of London real estate. You need to invest cash and human energy on the ground, and apologise to no one for doing it. And yet the opposite is happening. Joint cop-and-community initiatives are threatened by budget cuts . Meanwhile, youth unemployment grows and grows. This is insanity. In Paris, the have-nots are entrenched in dismal suburbs and the authorities define stability as only 300 cars being burned on New Year's Eve . That is where London is heading, a direction of travel that the small but growing crime story reveals. Reversing that ruinous journey will require bold thought and action, not least by the next London mayor. It must go far beyond Boris Johnson's current well-meant initiatives of questionable worth. We need family and youth interventions, schools, employers and the shrewdest possible police work combining in a huge collective effort, and a full-blooded fight for the resources to make it work. Who will insist that the small crime story can and must be changed for the better? Who has the vision and nerve? London Crime Police Dave Hill © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds