The challenge of tackling knife crime requires strong leadership and clear vision rather than knee jerk reactions. In Thames Valley we have not been immune from the increase in violent crime, including knife crime that has been seen across the country. There have been a number of tragic cases that have been in the news, but the impact has not been the same as some other areas such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Much of the focus has been on police officer numbers, and again, Thames Valley has seen a reduction in recent years as elsewhere in the UK. Recruitment is up however. Intakes have been expanded and the PCC raised council tax this year in part to pay for additional officers. Numbers will always make a difference, but as has also been discussed in the media this week, this is not a problem with one simple answer.
Thames Valley has lead the way in partnership working with other agencies. We have heard in the news in the last few days about the need to work with the NHS and schools, much of this is work that is already undertaken here in the Thames Valley. Undoubtedly there will always be more that can be done, but already the Police are working closely with hospitals, local authorities, schools and indeed pupil referral units to identify young people at risk and prevent crime.
Much of the rise in violent crime seen nationally and locally is linked with county lines drugs gangs. The work Thames Valley are leading on both in the Force and through the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit is aimed at tackling those gangs root and branch, disrupting their networks and safeguarding the young people that they exploit. Often we hear about people carrying weapons to protect themselves but there needs to be a clear message that they are actually endangering themselves.
This is one of the reasons why Stop and Search has already increased as a tactic in Thames Valley. Again there is lots of attention now about the use of the powers and so-called 'Section 60' powers in the West Midlands. The reality is that the PCC in Thames Valley has been supporting the increase in Stop and Search for well over a year. In the last twelve months some local police areas have seen an increase of over 50% in the use of intelligence led Stop and Search. This is a success story. These powers must be used proportionately and appropriately, but where they are, the evidence is that it takes weapons off our streets and acts as a deterrent to others.
In many ways once a young person is carrying a knife however, it is already too late. The Early Intervention Youth Project being development by the Thames Valley PCC will work with local councils, schools and the voluntary sector to divert young people from violence and criminality in the first place. The scheme has received over £800,000 of funding from the Home Office.
We cannot be complacent in the Thames Valley, violent crime has increased, and we have witnessed some tragic deaths as a result, however calm head must prevail. There have been calls in the last couple of days for an extra cash boost to tackle knife crime. In my opinion this is the wrong approach. A short term cash injection does not increase police numbers, it just pays for an increased overtime bill. What Thames Valley needs is a fair funding settlement to ensure that the increase in officers planned for this year can continue into the future. More investment is welcomed, but it needs to be sustained. Neighbourhood policing is at the bedrock of everything we do, and a knee jerk to create squads to tackle one problem only leaves gaps elsewhere. What is needed is sound core funding to ensure strong local policing that is able to tackle knife crime, along with other community concerns such as burglary, robbery and other types of violence.
It is vital to remember that behind the statistics lie the lives of real people. The deaths and life changing injuries that have been seen on Britain's streets are individual tragedies. Action is needed undoubtedly. Focus on the issue is welcome, but what is needed is clear leadership and a strategy to grip the problem from every angle, not a knee jerk reaction to catch the headlines.