The scrutiny is the MPA’s attempt at developing an idea of the causes of youth crime by talking to young people and those who work with young people involved in the criminal justice system.
There’s a strong Lewisham voice, and I’ll focus on that, but it’s worth putting up front the first five of the findings from the report:
- The number of young people that are involved in offending behaviour is significantly lower than the public currently perceive it to be
- A balanced portrayal of young people that includes their civic engagement and positive activities in the press is needed to address intergenerational tensions
- As with adult Londoners, fear of crime and personal safety is of key concern to young Londoners
- Young people who are disaffected and feel cut off from mainstream society are more likely to act in a territorial and tribal way and are more likely to believe that violence is a viable response to wrongs or perceived wrongs
- Young people are extremely concerned about reporting crimes to the police. This concern is exacerbated by how young people are treated by the police
Turning to what the young people and adults from Lewisham had to tell the committee.
Talking about “endz” a group of girls from the Youth Offending Service told the MPA:
that girls were free to travel about London but that it was more difficult for young men as they would be challenged by other groups of young men. They further clarified this by stating that:
‘If you are known for what you do [criminal or anti social behaviour] you won’t be able to go to particular endz. But if you are not known you can go anywhere’.
The girls also spoke about the different ways that girls and boys are percieved by the police, and the ways that they exploit this:
The young women from Lewisham YOT explained that groups involved in offending behaviour were often gender-mixed. They explained that young women were able to carry knives without being discovered by the police, because the police did not expect young women to carry knives. They explained that because young men were more likely to be stopped and searched, drugs and weapons were often handed over to girls to carry.
The scrutiny committee
found that some groups of young people had strong affiliations to the areas that they lived in and that on occasion this affiliation led to physical attacks on other young people that came into their areas. In considering some of the contributions made by young people regarding ‘endz’, it is important to keep in mind that attacks may not always be connected to gang activity.
The young women from Lewisham YOT were clear that the ‘madness’ that was done by them when they met up with their friends was not gang-related.
It appears that Lewisham is one of the boroughs that is piloting a Neighbourhood Policing Youth Toolkit which helps develop partnerships with amongst agencies with a focus on at risk young people. And it was at this level that young people seemed to think changes in attitudes were needed:
‘In New Scotland Yard the police are very different compared to how they are in Lewisham and how will you get your messages to trickle down to the police in our communities so that they come up to scratch?’
Although clearly when it comes down to individual officers relationships are formed:
The young women from Lewisham YOT spoke about a local officer called David. They liked David, stating that:
‘Everyone knows David. He can be all right depending on his mood. He can either say, “If I see you again I will arrest you,” or will pick you up and dash you.’
Turning to the views from adults that work with young people involved in the criminal justice system the question of the policing priorities was explored:
The workers from Lewisham YOT said that they thought that existing policing priorities had the wrong focus. They stated that a focus on fare evasion and ASB on buses, though useful and necessary, was overly harsh and that officers were failing to turn up promptly when young people were shot.
They also expressed a view that how young people are portrayed in the media had an impact on the way we feel about them:
‘If you closed down the Evening Standard tomorrow, the fear of crime would plummet.’
They also say that how vitims and purpetrators of crime are portrayed in the press isn’t always as rounded as it could be; victims are always ‘angels’ and purpetrators are ‘evil’. They’re experience of both was somewhat different.