Role play and dialogue aims

Role play and dialogue aims to cut London knife crime

The findings of a year-long project led by young people to help reduce knife crime and improve youth relations with the London Met have been announced at a special event on Wednesday 16th October at Lambeth Palace.

The ‘Police-Youth Round Tables’ project has seen 20 faith-environment events take place across seven London boroughs during 2017-18, bringing groups of disenfranchised young people aged 12-25 face-to-face with police officers from frontline and senior ranks to address both sides’ differences.

Making use of ‘Ubuntu,’ a unique South African approach to ‘togetherness and responsibility towards others,’ championed by Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, police and local government will be considering the project’s results and its potential for reducing knife crime and youth violence in London.

The Round Tables project has been led by Youth Futures and the Tutu Foundation UK charity, with joint funding support from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and Sir John Cass’s Foundation. The project itself has been evaluated by The Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University.

Clive Conway, chair of the Tutu Foundation UK explains: “The round tables set out to examine whether dialogue and interaction could help reduce increasing levels of violence, knife crime, and mistrust between young people and the police.

“The nearly 250 young people who took part in the round tables – held across Barking and Dagenham, Haringey, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – identified a variety of youth-policing issues for debate.

“These included young people carrying knives, police body cameras, stop and search, punishment for using illegal drugs, raising awareness of rights, and the fear of reporting crime.

“For a pilot programme, the early results have been very encouraging. We’ve now collected and analysed a mass of feedback and data from the young people and 75 police officers who took part.

“Both sides overwhelmingly report improved views and understanding of the other after Ubuntu-themed discussions and reverse role play, where police officers acted as young people being stopped and searched on the street and vice versa.”

Typical round table comments included:

“When young people do things like this to better engage with the police, I think they would think twice about carrying a knife. They could disclose certain information to the police, get

the right advice and be comfortable going to the police when they feel threatened – instead of picking up a knife” – youth participant, Police-Youth Round Table

“I think we do need to change our approach. The project is a way forward, particularly from the point of view that it is a neutral way for young people to get access to the police. It would be good if all new officers went through the programme. It could be quite successful to have it as part of the probationer programme” – police officer participant, Police-Youth Round Table

“It has helped me get a better understanding of the police and to think of them as normal people who live their lives and have families, and that sometimes it’s not always the police’s fault” – youth participant, Police-Youth Round Table

“We did some role play activities where the youngsters played the police trying to find a knife while the police acted the role of the person being searched. We tried to be as obstructive and aggressive as possible so that they could see how difficult it is to do a search. In turn they showed us how it feels to be stopped and searched with not much explanation of why it is happening” – police officer participant, Police-Youth Round Table

One young beneficiary and round table project facilitator is 23 year-old Blair Adderley. He comments:

“I was with Mark Murray, the young person and original round table founder, on the night we were going to McDonalds and suddenly got pulled up on by around 15 police officers.

“One said we were being stopped and searched for a robbery, one said it was for weapons, another said it was drugs. They were very rough, ripped our clothing and pushed us around. We felt helpless.

“Three days later we met for our first round table. I moved to this country when I was nine, and I was 11 when I first got stopped and searched, because the police told me ‘my bike looked too expensive.’

“I’ve been stabbed three times and didn’t call police once because I was fearful of being incriminated. Being a facilitator in the round tables has helped me see police officers as people, not uniforms. This is an essential part of breaking down barriers.”

Clive Conway concludes: “We have plans in place to run a further six round tables led by Youth Futures in the New Year in Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow.

“These will be informed by everything we have learnt from the pilot project to date. The challenge will be to create an ongoing series of sustainable round tables, led by fully-trained youth facilitators and enabling young people to use Ubuntu to solve the problems they confront every day.”

As well as building upon the pilot scheme’s success the 16th October Police Round Tables Project review will also mark the release of a new book titled ‘Everyday Ubuntu – living better together, the African way’ by Mungi Ngomane, granddaughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and patron of the Tutu Foundation UK.

The publication, available from Bantam Press, is described as being the ‘essential guide to Ubuntu, the South African philosophy being used by the London Police in the fight against knife crime,’ and promotes kindness, understanding and interconnectedness.

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