Protect young people from crime, Londoners say

Emma Rigby
Emma Rigby, who set up a voluntary group to prevent muggings in Enfield, is concerned about violence and its impact on young people [BBC]

"Now, it’s really important that you stay together, you keep in contact on the radios, you’re not to approach anyone if there’s conflict."

It’s 15:00 BST on a Wednesday afternoon, and Emma Rigby is giving a briefing to a group of volunteers preparing to patrol Enfield Town Centre to protect school children from being mugged.

She set up the scheme in 2019, through her community group called Love Your Doorstep, following a spate of robberies.

"My son had been mugged four times, in about three weeks," says volunteer Tina Coletta, explaining why she joined up.

Emma says since then, youth crime and antisocial behaviour have fallen, but she remains concerned about violence and its impact on the community, particularly young people.

"We've had six stabbings in Enfield over the last six weeks, and I don't think it’s been brought up enough in the mayoral elections."

Tina agrees. She’s disappointed that she’s not seen more detail on how candidates will tackle knife crime.

"They have got to show me what they're going to do it. It’s got to have a lot more money put into it. It's a pandemic."

The Enfield Town volunteers
The volunteers started patrolling the streets around Enfield town centre in 2019 in response to a spate of muggings targeting school children [BBC]

It’s a concern for Bindya Amin and Susan Foss, from the Old Enfield Charity Trust, which owns the local market.

"We have a lot of gangs coming in. They have knives, machetes," says Bindya, who tells me she wants to see more police on the streets.

"We used to have lots of local police who we knew by first name," says Susan. "Now you won’t see a policeman, and when you do call one, they don’t come.

"We understand their lack of resources, but it’s not right. For the safety of the public, it’s not right."

She says that nothing she has read so far, from any of the mayoral candidates, has convinced her that anyone has a plan to tackle the problem.

But Tony Sheaff, another patrol volunteer, tells me he has noticed there have been more police around the local area recently.

"But we still have the problem that if something flares up somewhere else, they get called away."

Anonymous young people
There are calls for more police on the streets to protect young people from being targeted by robbers [BBC]

According to Met police data, recorded knife crime offences in London have risen since 2016, when Labour's Sadiq Khan began his first term as mayor, from 11,085 to 14,879 in 2023.

However, the number of under 25 year olds injured by knives has fallen, from 1,954 in 2016 to 1,435 last year, although figures have risen each year since 2020.

Gun crime and homicide has also fallen under Sadiq’s mayoralty, but robbery and teenage homicide has risen.

Both Sadiq Khan, who is seeking a third term in office, and Conservative contender Susan Hall have made promises on putting more police on the streets.

Susan Hall has pledged an extra 1,500 officers if she’s elected, and a return to borough-based policing, which was scrapped a few years ago because of a lack of money.

She’s criticised Sadiq Khan for missing a key recruitment target last year, which meant the Met had to hand back tens of millions of pounds of funding.

Sadiq Khan has promised an extra 1,300 police and community support officers and special constables, and says policing has suffered under years of Tory cuts under austerity measures.

A spokesman for Mr Khan has said Susan Hall’s plans did not add up.

The Enfield volunteers say the problem is not just about the number of police officers.

Several tell me they want a mayor who will champion neighbourhood policing, and ensure the Met collaborates with the local community, which they see as particularly important while the force attempts to make reforms following a series of scandals.

Emma says the Met has been very supportive of their own group and thinks that needs to extend to other organisations who work with young people.

"Children need people they can relate to while trust for the police is being rebuilt, and I know that the police are working really hard on rebuilding that trust. But that's going to take time."

"They need to work with ex-gang members," adds Tina. "And they need to fund them properly."

Although the community patrols have focused on robberies mainly against young men, Emma says they are also worried about violence against women and girls.

"We're hearing more and more young girls being harassed or sexually harassed," says Emma.

"I don't think there's any harm at all in having a female commissioner looking at this specifically. I think it’s a good thing."

Sadiq Khan has promised to fund free legal advice and safe accommodation for victims of abuse, and to tackle misogyny in schools.

Susan Hall has also said she’ll support those escaping abuse, and has promised a female commissioner, and improvements to safety on public transport.

'There is a level of desperation'

Paul Blake
Volunteer Paul Blake says he would like youth centres to be reopened [BBC]

Fellow volunteer Paul Blake believes that tackling the underlying causes of crime should be a key priority.

"A lot of young people on our streets, especially when it comes to holiday time, they've got nothing to do.

"They’re bored, and they’re always looking for something to do and it’s always mischievous, so I do think they need to open back up the youth centres."

Natasha Young
Department store manager Natasha Young wants action on shoplifting, including tackling the underlying causes of crime [BBC]

Natasha Young, general manager of the department store Pearsons, also in Enfield would like tougher action on shoplifting and believes retail crime is linked to other issues.

"There is a level of desperation, where you see that people are homeless and losing their homes, and not being able to eat, and the increase of food banks.

"I'd like to see a mayor that addresses those problems."

Sadiq Khan says his violence reduction unit, created in 2019 to tackle the underlying causes of crime, will create positive opportunities for 500,000 young Londoners, while Susan Hall has promised more stop and search.

The Lib Dem candidate Rob Blackie has said, if elected, he would have the Met focus on going after violent offenders and rapists rather than stopping and searching young people for cannabis.

The Green’s Zoe Garbett also wants to reduce stop and search and says she would restore community-led policing.

The mayoral election takes place on 2 May.