Historic disagreements over how best to tackle serious violence in Hackney have resurfaced, with the borough’s Liberal Democrats warning the Labour-controlled council against “complacency” on violent crime.
Hackney Lib Dems vice-chair Darren Martin spoke out in the wake of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement of £500,000 for a city-wide Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), based on a pilot program in Glasgow which treats serious violence as a public health issue.
Welcoming the introduction of the scheme, Martin proposed a local VRU set up between Hackney and Tower Hamlets, which share Central East Command as a police force, as well as funding for additional community officers.
Martin said: “It’s great that the Mayor of London has listened and decided to introduce a model that has proven results.
“The Lib Dems were leading calls for this approach to be implemented in Hackney, and this will make a real difference to London, which has just seen its 100th murder of the year.
“It’s important that Hackney takes the lead on this and that we do not become complacent, expecting the London VRU to do all the work for us.
“Mayor Glanville and Cllr Selman were adamant the VRU was nothing new, and I hope now they see this as an opportunity to really engage with a policy that they were only dismissive of because it came from us and not Labour.
“The London-wide announcement is a step in right direction, but we still do not have all the details of how the new London VRU will function and whether it will have the same freedom as the Glasgow one.
“I would call on Hackney Council to not play the wait and see game and show real leadership on tackling violence in our borough.”
He added that Hackney’s Integrated Gangs Unit (IGU) should be rolled into the new two-borough unit.
The disagreement over the establishment of a local VRU came up in the run-up to the London local elections, when the Lib Dems promised to allocate £1.5 million to a scheme emulating the work undertaken in Scotland.
The Glasgow pilot aimed to create “long-term attitudinal change” in society, combining researchers, police officers, civilian staff and former offenders, and employed a preventative approach to contain and manage individuals who carry weapons or who were involved in violent behaviour.
In 2006, the Scottish VRU’s remit widened to tackle all forms of violence, from gang fighting to bullying at school and in the workplace.
Hackney’s IGU, set up in 2010, is a partnership unit of council staff, police, voluntary organisations and government agencies to work with Hackney residents who are at the highest risk of involvement in gang activity.
Cllr Caroline Selman (Lab, Woodberry Down), cabinet member for community safety, policy and the voluntary sector, hit back at Martin’s policy pitches as “out of touch”, maintaining that the IGU and Hackney’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP) already carries out work similar to that of a VRU.
Cllr Selman said: “Hackney is already committed to adopting a public health approach and has been learning lessons from Glasgow since 2010 when we set up the IGU, the first co-located unit in the country.
“We are therefore pleased that a similar approach will be being applied on a London-wide basis through the Mayor’s new VRU.
“We look forward to working closely with Tower Hamlets as the police merger progresses and support cross-borough working.
“However the suggestion of creating a single integrated unit for both boroughs is unwise, given the close relationships we have built with communities and providers in Hackney.
“The Metropolitan Police have been clear that they will not be requiring the merger of our IGU into a single unit with Tower Hamlets, reflecting the need for a bespoke approach which takes account of the specific context of individual boroughs.
“Lib Dem proposals on this seem out of touch and could potentially damage local focus and accountability.”
In specific response to Martin’s calls for more community officers, Cllr Selman underlined the funding received by the IGU, whilst pointing out that Hackney Council has the second highest spend per capita in London on universal services for young people.
Recent IGU figures show that gun discharges, meaning any crime in which a lethal weapon is fired, were up 25 per cent in Hackney in the year to July 2018.
More positive figures sat alongside those for gun discharge, with knife crime down 25.9 per cent in the borough for the same period, and serious youth violence down 10.5 per cent.
Responding to the Lib Dem proposals, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “In Hackney we have long recognised the benefits of learning from Glasgow and are committed to applying a public health approach to tackling violence.
“We therefore welcome a commitment to this approach on a London-wide basis with the Mayor of London’s announcement about the setting up of a pan-London violence reduction unit.
“Until we see an end to lives being lost to violence, it is vital that we continue to work together to tackle violence in the round and to support initiatives such as the Youth Violence Intervention Programme currently being implemented at Homerton Hospital by the youth work charity, Redthread.
“However it is positive that the Liberal Democrats appear to agree that the approach we are currently taking in Hackney is the right one.”