New police commander: We need younger officers to break through to teenagers on knife crime
'I’m not sure I can empathise because my life as a teenager was radically different', says Raj Kohli
09 April, 2019 — By Samantha Booth
CAMDEN’s new police commander has said the “energy and experience” of younger officers interacting with teenagers could help prevent knife crime and violence.
In his first interview since being appointed as the new borough commander last month, Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli said he would be using engagement to build relationships with the borough’s youngsters.
Chief Supt Kohli, who previously served in Camden from 2008 to 2012, was speaking before Calvin Bungisa was stabbed to death in Gospel Oak last Monday night.
He admitted that when young people die in tragic circumstances it upsets him as it’s a “loss to society”.
“I can’t prove this, but for every great interaction someone’s had with a police officer, it’s left a trace,” he said. “If it’s a great interaction – even if a police officer thinks: ‘I haven’t got through to that young person’ – everyone gets through to a point. “You may never know that. You might, just by being decent and understanding, nudge that person slightly away from the course of life they might choose to take.”
Chief Supt Kohli said there was a distinction between people carrying knives to use them and those carrying weapons who are “understandably very, very afraid”. “They are carrying because they just don’t know what’s happening out there,” he said. “They are carrying knives to protect themselves. How bad has society become when you start to think like that?”
Chief Supt Kohli told a community meeting last month that police will not criminalise young people, describing some teenage drug dealers as victims of crime themselves. He believes younger police officers may be able to relate to some of the young people in London.
He said a similar approach, where officers were tasked to engage with young people when he was in the borough previously, had begun to prevent serious youth violence. Chief Supt Kohli also highlighted the benefits of school officers building relationships with children.
“I’m a big fan of talking, understanding, empathising,” he said. “Our average age of a police officer is much younger than it used to be. It wasn’t that long ago that they were teenagers feeling the pressure of living in London, so they can empathise. Whereas me, as a 52-year-old man, as much as I try and sympathise I’m not sure I can empathise because my life as a teenager was radically different. So we need to use the energy and experiences of our younger officers, PCSOs [police community support officers], police staff and youth workers to understand that and start talking and putting messages out there.”