On Sunday an often invisible part of our policing response – our surveillance officers – calmly ran forward to stop a vicious knife attack in the middle of a busy high street in Streatham.
My thoughts – and those of all of my policing colleagues – are with those directly impacted by this incident, and we wish all affected a speedy recovery.
I am in no doubt that the quick reactions of our covert officers prevented many more people from being injured, and they exemplified the courage and sense of duty that our officers have shown time and time again in their efforts to protect the public from the terrorist threat.
And that threat is, despite our best efforts, not diminishing. This is the third attack we have responded to in about as many months – with Sunday’s attack following the recent incidents at Fishmongers’ Hall and Whitemoor prison.
The covert nature of our police surveillance of terror suspects is a significant and important way we respond to that threat. Our officers are highly trained, hugely professional and whilst they normally have to operate out of sight, they know that when the public is threatened it is their role to step forward.
Police and the security services knew the attacker posed a significant risk and we were, unfortunately, proved right in our decision to place him under surveillance. But with 3000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar and many convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them, all the time.
Part of the solution must be ensuring that those who pose the greatest threat to our society are removed from it, and so my colleagues and I are supportive of the government’s plans to strengthen our ability to keep the most dangerous terrorists locked up for longer.
But all parts of the system are responsible for finding and implementing the solutions that will help us keep our communities safe – and, crucially, that includes the communities themselves.
When I tell you that ‘Communities defeat terrorism’ it is not just a catchphrase. We know from experience that public information and action, including being vigilant, helps saves lives.
That means vigilance wherever you go, not just the iconic locations and crowded places where we have seen attacks take place in the past. Sunday’s incident is proof that attacks can happen anywhere, and at any time.
We need people to trust their instincts and to trust us with that information, and not just signs of suspicious activity or behaviour. We need your help to stop vulnerable people from being drawn down the path that leads to the awful violence we saw on Sunday.
We know that rehabilitating and deradicalising terrorist offenders is incredibly difficult. It is hard to change someone’s mind when their views have become so entrenched that they are willing to commit atrocities in support of their ideology.
Sunday’s attacker had his heart set on martyrdom before he was even convicted, but there was, at one point earlier in his life, still an opportunity to divert him away from hatred and violence.
That is why early intervention, through the Prevent programme, is absolutely key. We need families, friends, colleagues and local communities to recognise that early intervention is not ruining someone’s life but saving it, and potentially that of others, too.