Islington Crime & Safety Summit: Tackling youth crime in the borough
By Vera Mikusch and Karina Nigmatullina
The second annual Islington Crime and Safety Summit took place this Saturday, March 14, at the Islington Assembly Hall on Upper Street. Members of the police, local council and residents discussed a wide range of issues concerning criminal activity and safety in the borough, together with a number of guest speakers representing different organisations. Below is a summary of the event.
Crime rates and perception
Cllrs. Richard Watts and Paul Convery kicked off by laying out the current crime scene. Even though “the overall trend is going down” and statistical crime rates are in decline, Watts admitted that it “doesn’t feel like it out there”.
Residents tend not to feel safe because, despite an overall drop in crime rates, certain types of offences, such as smartphone robberies or stabbings, remain the same or go up. Police Borough Commander Gerry Campbell said there have been a total of 1,013 fewer victims of snatching and theft over the last year, but the number of violent offences has gone up by 399. (More crime statistics for Islington can be found on the Metropolitan Police website)
Future steps in crime prevention will have to consider upcoming budget cuts, which were briefly touched on. Following the latest cut of £600 million, the local police department can expect another one in 2020, which will amount to £850 million.
By far the biggest discussion at this year’s summit surrounded youth crime and the safety of young people in Islington. After Alan Cartwright’s brutal murder in February, the council is once again faced with the growing number of violence among young adults in Islington. It now wants to involve the borough’s community more in tackling crimes in partnership with the police over the next 12 months.
A legal problem with youth crimes is that only a few cases of violent assaults that involve young people actually result in legal action against the offender. Out of 180 cases of youth violence last year only approximately half resulted in prosecution. In the other half of the cases the perpetrators walked free.
Jennifer Otu, the Islington Unites representative, proposed a more comprehensive legal system that would help find and prosecute the assailants, as well as tougher sentences. Community members seem divided on whether more severe sentences for knife bearing and violent assaults, as well as stricter sanctions on anybody involved, should be the only solution to stop the violence and minimise knife crime in Islington.
Both panel members and guest speakers alike agreed that all crimes that involve young people have terrible consequences not just for the victim but also for the perpetrators themselves. Hence one of the main communal goals that the summit aimed to establish for the next twelve months is a deeper understanding of where youth crime stems from and finding effective solutions to tackle it.
Jennie Walsh, a forensic psychologist working with the NHS Camden & Islington Foundation Trust had a scientific answer to what made young people follow the criminal path. She said that: “there is no distinction between the perpetrator and the victim, and the people who cause the most damage are often times the most damaged themselves”.
She explained that young criminals tend to come from less privileged neighbourhoods and have troubled families. Emotional issues and relationship problems lead to isolation and make affected youngsters more prone to getting into gangs and commit crimes. Walsh further mentioned that existing social services would need to offer both “risk” and “need” support.
Guest speaker Shafie Moalim, from the Muslim Welfare House gave a first-hand account of working with troubled young adults. He pointed out that even though there are enough services and opportunities for school dropouts to get back on track, many young people are simply not aware of them. According to Moalim, they often don’t have a place to go to have fun, be creative, and learn something that fits their skills. This abundance of free time causes a lack of motivation and low self-confidence, forcing teenagers out in the streets.
Moalim stressed that there needed to be a more thorough communication between social programmes and troubled young people. To give the teenagers, who often feel lost and bewildered, an opportunity to explore life beyond the streets, the borough should work on introducing a more efficient guidance system.
“We need long term objectives to create perspectives for youth. There is more to it than quotes and numbers, it’s people behind those numbers,” he said. “Look at young people as more than just statistics.”