London

London violent crime 'a public health issue'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media caption"If you carry a knife, you intend to use it"

London's violent crime is to be treated as a public health issue, the city's mayor has said.

The capital saw its 100th homicide so far this year on Tuesday.

Sadiq Khan said a Violence Reduction Unit would mirror the approach taken in Glasgow, where violence is treated as "a disease infecting communities".

However, Steve O'Connell, the chairman of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, said there was a "worrying lack of detail" about the plan.

A third of London's homicide victims in 2018 have been aged 16 to 24, and three in five of the deaths have involved knife attacks.

There were 116 killings in the city in 2017.

The mayor said the unit, which has been given £500,000 funding, would focus on "early interventions" involving schools, healthcare professionals, councils and the police.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Scotland's public health approach to knife crime has caught the eye of Sadiq Khan and the Met's commissioner Cressida Dick

He said the unit would work to divert young people away from crime by tackling "deep-seated societal problems" including poverty, alienation and mental health.

Previous research has shown young violent criminals have often been excluded from school or exposed to domestic violence as a child.

Mr Khan said: "The causes of violent crime are many years in the making and the solutions will take time. That's why our new approach is focusing over the long term.

"This unit is not a substitute for the investment our public services need if London is to significantly cut levels of violent crime."

The mayor's scheme echoes an approach successfully used in Scotland, which sees police work with teachers, social workers and health professionals.

Between them, they share knowledge and make lists of criminals and those at risk of offending. These people are offered jobs, housing, training and mentoring, in an effort to steer them away from violent crime.

The mayor's office said it would be working on the exact details of its violence reduction unit over the "coming months".

Mr O'Connell, chairman of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, said: "Whilst we welcome this initiative it has been a long time coming.

"However, there is a worrying lack of detail as to how this unit will operate across such a vast area as the whole of London.

"We will be keeping a close eye on whether this new plan has an impact on the ground and does not end up a missed opportunity."

The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) was set up in 2005 and was inspired by a pioneering approach taken in Chicago in the 1990s, which treated violence in the same way as epidemics such as Aids.

Niven Rennie, director of the SVRU, said staff were "happy to support London in the development" of its own unit.

"The SVRU started by treating violence as a disease which was infecting our communities," he said.

"From teachers and social workers, to doctors and dentists, police and government we have all worked together to make Scotland safer.

"The job isn't done and every single life lost is a tragedy, but... Scotland has shown that change is possible and we believe London can do the same."

The Met Police has also boosted the Violent Crime Taskforce temporarily with an extra 122 officers drafted into work this week.

The manpower was taken from the Met's traffic unit, and the taskforce will have 272 officers for the next three months.

More on this story