Another grim set of headlines about boys being murdered on our streets.
And, inevitably, the Stop & Search debate comes back round again.
Depressingly, the prevailing tone has become more and more binary – a back-and-forth argument between those who regard Stop & Search as the root of all evil and those who regard it as the solution to everything.
Both perspectives are wrong.
I was a police officer for more than twenty-five years and there are two things that I am absolutely certain of when it comes to Stop & Search:
(1) It saves lives
(2) It isn’t the long term solution to anything
I haven’t given up on hope. I know that there are answers to knife crime – based on the development of a genuine public health approach, sustained over 20+ years and independent of any form of political control.
But it is going to take time. Time that tomorrow’s victims don’t have.
In the meantime, the greatest duty – and privilege – that any police officer will ever have is to save a life. That’s what we need them to be doing out there, right now. That’s what Stop & Search allows them to do. Used wisely and well, it saves lives. That is the unequivocal, undeniable, repeated experience of my working life.
Those who are opposed to the police use of Stop & Search need to do more than make their objections known. They need to be clear about what it is they are suggesting as an alternative.
If not Stop & Search, then what? If not the police, then who? Who will confront the young men of violence too damaged to understand the likely fatal consequences of their actions? Who is willing to put themselves in harm’s way in defence of complete strangers?
To repeat a question posed by a former colleague a couple of years back – what would the critics rather: that the police had their hands in young people’s pockets or in their chest cavities?
Stop & Search is thoroughly imperfect. Police officers using Stop & Search are thoroughly imperfect. So help them to do it better. Help them to engage better with those who have legitimate concerns.
But please understand that all they are trying to do is save the life of someone else’s son.