When I was re-elected mayor, I made it clear that keeping London citizens safe would continue to be my top priority. I promised to continue to be tough on crime and tough on the complex causes of crime. That’s why I have to date not only provided funds to an additional 1300 police officers, but also invested more than £ 70m in helping to create positive opportunities for some of our city’s most vulnerable and vulnerable young people.
This is about moving past the simplistic and unhelpful notion that anything but an enforcement response is somehow “soft” on crime. Instead of clinging to dogmas and received wisdom, we need to focus our attention and resources on what actually works and what will make our city and our youth more secure. A big part of this is looking at alternative approaches that have the potential not only to protect public safety, but to divert vulnerable people away from a life spent in and out of the criminal justice system.
This concept of diversion as a means of reducing crime is nothing new, and together with intelligent and robust enforcement and large investments in preventive services, it is an integral element of any crime prevention strategy. For example, I am proud to fund the London Women’s Diversion Service, which works to reduce the recurrence of women over the age of 18 who have committed low-level offenses. The service addresses the underlying issues that contribute to their violation, such as substance abuse, mental needs, or domestic abuse. This approach has made a real difference, with only seven percent of those supported by the service were arrested againcompared to the national recycling rate of 23.4 per cent.
Last year I invested too £ 900,000 of town hall funding for Met Police’s Divert program, which supports young adults to stay away from violence. Detention intervention coaches meet young people after they have been arrested and work with them to provide support, guidance, and assistance with training, education, and employment opportunities to help reduce the risk of recidivism.
As part of this diversion approach, we are in the early stages of, together with our partners, assessing the viability of a pilot scheme in a small area of the city where 18-24 year olds are found in possession of a small the amount of cannabis supported through diversionary measuresrather than arrested and potentially convicted.
We know that we will never simply be able to stop our way out of the problem, and trying to do so would only further anchor harmful disproportion, which we see throughout the justice system and which particularly affect young black men.
The idea of the potential initiative already used by other police forces across the country would be to steer young Londoners away from the criminal justice system and towards early action schemes focusing on support and education. Similar schemes have been shown to reduce repetition and have received support across parties, so it makes sense to see if it could also be tried successfully here in London.
In general, we need to recognize the need for more progressive, rather than more criminal, approaches when it comes to low-level drug-related offenses, and look at the latest evidence when it comes to preventing offenses and making society safer.
That is why I am also setting up a Drugs Commission of independent experts who will examine the effectiveness of our drug legislation with a particular focus on cannabis. The Commission will make recommendations focusing on the most effective laws to tackle crime, protect London’s health and reduce the enormous damage currently caused by the status quo to individuals, families and communities in our city. It is my hope that the results of this commission will make a meaningful contribution to a necessary ongoing debate in our city, our country and around the world.
In the meantime, I will not shy away from exploring and implementing new ideas rooted in the latest research and evidence from other cities that can help us deliver the results we all want in London – less crime, safer streets, better public health and young Londoners diverted away from drug use and crime forever.
Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London