Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Claire Sandbrook as Shergroup’s CEO writes on the growing rise of knife crime in London and her thoughts surrounding this disturbing trend, I started work in London in 1980 – and married a Londoner – and so London is a very big part of my life. It is distressing than to see how this wonderful capital city is being blighted by the growing number of threats such as terrorism and what I perceive as another form of terrorism, and that is gangs wielding knives. I was shocked to see on SKY NEWS last week footage from a case of a “Zombie” knife attacker, whose prison sentence was found to be too lenient and was eventually increased from 2 to 3.5 years. You can see in the linked report that the attacker is brandishing his large Zombie knife in Croydon high street https://bit.ly/2S2CBx6. No one could approach the nutcase with the knife of course – he was just out of control and no police were in the immediate vicinity.
Then I read in my “go-to” source for reliable (not fake) news, The Daily Telegraph, that the Metropolitan Police are trialling facial recognition technology in the Capital as a means of strengthening their capability to identify suspects and naturally enough arrest them. A piece on the roll-out of the operation is linked here https://bit.ly/2tjWp4Q. Wouldn’t it have been good to have facial recognition cameras on a network in Croydon High Street that day? There are wall-to-wall CCTV on British streets anyway – so this type of crime will be picked up somewhere on a camera, but now that criminal can be matched against the police’s national database. As a citizen, I feel the police must use every lawful tool at their disposal to fight crime and this sort of outrageous “in your face” action. We have forgotten too easily the horrific murderer of Lee Rigby in Woolwich where another couple of nutcases beheaded this wonderful young man in broad daylight for being a soldier.
Knife crime is not new to Britain, it has been steadily growing year on year. As far back as 2008 David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, declared he was bringing in tougher sentences for knife crime – see https://bit.ly/2E7hjKG. 10 years on and we are still dithering about what that sentence should really be.
Personally, I support any initiative as a law-abiding citizen to fight knife crime. I am often in London and I want to continue to feel, as I always have, that when I walk down Piccadilly or Fleet Street, I am going to be safe. I could have put money on it that the Information Commissioner’s Office would have a say on the matter, as of course the data which comes from the police operation is subject to the UK Data Protection laws. Apparently, the police decided to use this technology doesn’t have Home Office approval at the present time. I find that surprising and frankly unhelpful. You would think that the Home Office, (the equivalent of the US State Department) would be leading the debate and guidance on the use of facial recognition technology in major UK cities.
In that debate, police constabularies (police departments) should be contributing as the front-line agencies dealing with crime, and the Information Commissioner would be briefing everyone on the position of the use of this technology in relation to data protection legislation. These 3 functions, state, police and information protector must align, to achieve coherently and as far as possible transparent policies about the use of this form of technology. They should have the foresight to weigh up the pros and the cons and to communicate their agreed findings to Parliament and to the public at large.
Working as I do in London and having teams of high court enforcement agents and security officers on the streets, knife crime is a real concern. The UK has one of the most developed health and safety regimes in the world. Risk assessment in any given workplace situation is a statutory requirement but despite all that as we know, incidents reported here and even the recently tragic stabbing of PC Keith Palmer on the doorstep of Parliament show a willful behaviour to flout the law. On always that sad day in 2018 even the police couldn’t protect one of their own from a stabbing in an exposed area of the body - https://bit.ly/2RVX46p.
So, whilst we continue to develop our policies and procedures to reduce the risk of fatalities caused by stabbing, I think the overarching approach of having facial recognition tech in place as part of a security program to handle evermore violent and public crimes on the streets is VITAL. The ability to survey large crowds of people is necessary and if the technology exists to sort the good guys from the bad guys let’s use it. I will happily surrender my human rights to protect other humans and to drive out and expose criminal behaviour in people who will not otherwise be identified.