Tory crime strategy will increase risk of major public disorder

Boris Johnson’s announcements around his crime reduction strategy are worrying and predictable (Weird and gimmicky’: police chiefs condemn Boris Johnson’s crime plan, 27 July).

As a councillor in Haringey who previously led on the council’s work with the Metropolitan police, I’m filled with dread at the thought of the Met ramping up stop and search in some supposedly “evidenced” response to knife crime.

In 2010 we had the highest ever recorded levels of stop and search in London, the year before the riots – totally coincidental? Going down the path outlined by the prime minister will result in an increased risk of major public disorder. As mayor of London in 2011, Johnson more than anybody else should know this. The link between stop and search and reducing serious youth violence is highly contested.

In 1999, the then Labour government launched a 10-year national teenage pregnancy strategy to address an ingrained social problem. Twenty years later, teenage conceptions have been reduced by nearly 70%, an intractable social problem has been reversed and, more importantly, a change of culture has been achieved. Why can’t we do the same around serious youth violence? The answer is fairly evident: we don’t have the political will and courage to do so.

Serious youth violence is a complex social problem. An enforcement approach will fail. We need leadership and an alternative agenda on policing and criminal justice. Let’s hope the Labour frontbench are listening.
Cllr Mark Blake
Labour, Haringey council

Not for the first time, emboldening stop and search policies will inevitably lead to a radical review of policing culture. The last time was in 1984, following the Brixton/Croxteth disturbances – protests at policing which were sparked by stop and search. It was a joint university/police team, of which I became a member, that conducted the review for the (Conservative) home secretary and came up with 121 recommendations for a wholesale shake-up of national police training. These were put into effect.

Training was the “tail” that was to “wag the dog” of a dysfunctional police culture, questioning and replacing habitual, ossified practices. The inevitability of external review flows from the licence that stop and search gives to the police service to relax their professional ethics and allow discriminatory practices to supplant them.

If you wanted to provoke civil disturbance and undermine democratic policing, you could hardly think up a better policy.
Prof Saville Kushner

Anyone wanting to fix our broken penal system would do well to read Justice on Trial by Chris Daw QC or, better still, listen to his interview with Helen Lewis on the abolition of prisons (The Spark, BBC Sounds, 30 September 2020). The damage done to our police, probation and other welfare services has led to increasing incarceration and worse outcomes for us all. The US system, which we seem to be emulating, is hugely wasteful and unjust. There are much better models which are less expensive and can make society safer for everyone. The Guardian would do well to keep beating the drum about this.
Mary Jones
Towednack, Cornwall

Had the proposed policy that those guilty of antisocial behaviour should be in “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs” publicly paying for their crimes been in force in the 1980s, when Bullingdon Club members were trashing restaurants, this country would undoubtedly be in a better state.
TG Ashplant

I fear that the plan to make offenders do community service while wearing hi-vis jackets may backfire. I volunteer for the local council as a neighbourhood litter-picker and always wear the hi-vis jacket supplied to me. I’m in my mid-60s and have no criminal record. Will I want to be mistaken for a hardened offender?

On the other hand, if peaceful protest does become illegal, I suppose I will be in one of Boris Johnson’s chain gangs quite soon. I’ll carry on.
Susan Ellery
Horsham, West Sussex

I read with dismay Boris Johnson’s desire for “hi-vis chain gangs”. I lived in Tucson, Arizona, for many years and always remember seeing prisoners shackled together in orange jackets picking up litter on the busy interstate between Tucson and Phoenix in the desert heat. Passersby would shout abuse at them from their cars. Those who subject people to these humiliating circumstances are no better than the so-called offenders themselves.
Lynn Beudert
Professor emerita, University of Arizona; Wells, Somerset

I very much look forward to seeing images of other perpetrators in hi-vis chain gangs, paying their debt to society: anyone who has been found to have breached the ministerial code; anyone who has been untruthful in statements to parliament, splurged taxpayers’ money on procurement contracts for their mates, been found to have unlawfully prorogued parliament; and anyone who has lied to the electorate about the benefits of Brexit. Bring back the stocks, I say!
Christopher Reilly
Thingley, Wiltshire

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