EXCLUSIVE: Youth violence drops in Croydon after council staff spy on social media and 'Young Ma
HOPE: Youth crime dropped 10 months after Young Mayor William Awomoyi vowed to tackle it (CroydonBC)
COUNCIL staff snooping on social media profiles of gang members is one of a raft of measures a London borough has turned to in a bid to reduce the amount of stabbings and serious violence. Croydon Council in South London says it has almost halved the amount of serious youth violence in its borough with a series of measures, including monitoring sites like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to see what youths and gang members are getting up to. Croydon was worst in London for youth violence in 2017 after a series of gang and youth violence-related stabbings and shootings, including four murders. But, after suffering a 59 per cent rise in knife crime and 18.5 per cent rise in serious youth violence in the 12 months up to August 2017, it saw a dramatic fall last year following a number of initiatives.
ACTION: Councillor Hamida Ali (YouTube)
Hamida Ali, councillor responsible for public safety, said Croydon has a dedicated gangs team. She said: "The gangs team looks at social media sites like YouTube to see if what we think is happening is really out there and because there is a changing dynamic. "But, our gang-related activity is lower than what the public perception is." With 93,500 under 18s Croydon has the highest youth population in London. In March there was a 60 per cent turn out of eligible 11 to 18 year olds who voted in its first Young Mayor William Awomoyi, 15, who stood on a tacking youth crime platform. In the ten months since his election there has been a dramatic reduction. His election manifesto said: "I’ll call for more police patrols in the more dangerous areas of Croydon to assist in safeguarding of youths. "I will also look to help cure the dreadful epidemic, which is slowly beginning to taint our borough, drug abuse."
MURDERED: Jermaine Goupall was fatally stabbed in August 2017 (Met Police)
There were 71 youth violence incidents in December 2017 and only 30 in November 2018, and just one youth-related murder last year. Croydon's success at reducing youth violence through closer working with police and campaigns in schools such as "I choose to have a life not a knife" has caught the attention of other authorities facing problems. Earlier this month it was reported that an escalation in violence and robberies of school children in Enfield, in North London, saw it become the worst borough in the capital for serious youth violence.
BRAWL: Youths fight with chairs and knives in an Edmonton McDonald's (YouTube)
Its problems have continued with more stabbings, including during two high profile brawls in a McDonald's restaurant in Edmonton just weeks apart. This month Enfield Grammar School wrote to parents warning of a disturbing new twist to the robberies. The letter said: "A year 7 student was approached by a group of boys and girls. he was asked for money and then asked for house keys." The Met Police said the attempted keys robbery appeared to be an isolated incident so far. But, Enfield Council now wants to work with Croydon to try to turn the tide on its violence. A knife crime & serious youth violence strategy for Enfield, Barnet and haringey was agreed this month.
KNOCKOUT: Edmonton Eagles Boxing Club has received a grant (EEBC)
One of its first decisions was to give £4,600 to Edmonton Eagles Boxing Club for more coaching sessions in the hope they can divert young people from street violence.
Croydon is setting up its own Violence Reduction Unit which will adopt a "public health" approach to preventing rather than curing violence. The public health system sees police work with health, education and social work professionals, charities and the community to get to the root of the problem and deter youngsters from offending, rather than just prosecuting them. It follows visits by Croydon officers to Glasgow where the public health approach saw knife deaths of children and teenagers plummet.
From 2006 to 2011 15 were stabbed to death in Glasgow, but from April 2011 to April 2016 there were no such deaths. Councillor Ali said: "Working together with communities we’ve started to see a reduction in serious youth violence. However, we know from the recent loss of life in London, that we need to work harder to make further reductions." She said Croydon now has "campus cops" police officers based in many of its schools to improve relations between pupils and the force. Its trading standards department is piloting a scheme with the Met Police to reduce the online sale of weapons such as zombie knives The London Mayor's office is to carry out a review of youth violence across London after it was inspired by the findings of a Croydon review that looked at the cases of more than 60 at risk youngsters, including three that died. The Met Police has a Divert scheme in Croydon police station offering arrested youths job and training opportunities. DS Lee Hill said: "While the borough has seen a decrease in serious youth violence in the last 12 months there is still much more work to be done."