Opinion: Cracking down on serious violence

Superintendent Neil Billany, Area Commander for Peterborough andFenland writes for the Peterborough Telegraph.
Police at the scene of a stabbing at Welland Road just a few days ago.Police at the scene of a stabbing at Welland Road just a few days ago.
Police at the scene of a stabbing at Welland Road just a few days ago.

It is now four months since I started in Peterborough. In that time, we have seen several attacks involving the use of serious violence on our streets.

Reading through the crime reports for these crimes, a lot of them come back to the age-old issue of drug use and more specifically drug dealing. Clearly there is significant money in drug dealing, hence the extremes of violence that people are willing to use to take or keep control of their ‘business’.

I welcomed the announcement from the home secretary last month that changes were being made to the powers for police to search people where serious violence is anticipated, under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. These changes make it easier for us to authorise section 60 which enables us to stop and search anyone in a specified area covered by the legislation (where we anticipate the violence will occur). We have already made use of this following the double stabbing in Century Square earlier this month. How we use stop and search is understandably a matter of concern and great interest, and we have a well-established process covering supervision and scrutiny in the force. All searches should also be recorded on the officer’s body worn camera meaning any complaints can easily be acted on. This also protects the police officers themselves from malicious complaints.

While I make no apologies for using powers such as stop and search, to ultimately rid our streets of dangerous weapons and save lives, this is not the only tactic we have to address violence. We have several officers working full-time in our schools and colleges, engaging with young people at risk of becoming involved in this lifestyle and working with various agencies to try to divert them to more constructive options before they are lost to more serious crime.

We have also recently relaunched our night-time economy patrols of the city centre, an exciting step forward given these stopped during the lockdowns as there was little happening in the city at night! These see officers on dedicated patrol of our pubs and clubs to prevent violence, respond to incidents and identify and deal with those looking to target women with predatory behaviour. This has received much attention nationally under the headline of ‘Reducing Violence Against Women and Girls’ and is rightly a critical priority for the force. We will be trying several new tactics in this area alongside more traditional methods and I will update you later in the summer on how we get on.

Lastly, I would like to mention press reports recently around rises in the cost of living and what this may mean for crime, in particular lower-level crimes like shoplifting. I have a very simple view of our role in society, and it is not to act as judge and jury. In short, we are here to prevent and detect crime, and that means we investigate allegations with an open mind about what might have happened and why. We then relay this to the Crown Prosecution Service and courts, who are there to decide on the rights and wrongs and administer whatever punishment is necessary.