The use of blanket stop and search powers has risen four-fold in London amid a spike in violent crime which has seen children as young as 13 stabbed on the streets.
The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, said weapons were “too freely available” in the capital, where there have been more than 50 murders since the start of the year.
Arrests have been made in 43 of the cases, and charges brought in 33, with Ms Dick warning that some investigations were being met with a “wall of silence”.
Police are intensifying efforts to seize weapons including guns and knives before they can be used, increasing stop and searches following several years of decline amid controversy over alleged racial profiling.
Section 60 powers, which allows officers to search anyone in a designated area without suspicion if there is a risk of violence, has been used 106 times in London in the past year, up from 23 in the previous 12 months.
A total of 1,571 people were searched in the capital using the power between April 2017 until March 2018, compared with fewer than 400 people searched in each of the three previous years, according to figures obtained by the BBC.
Chief Constable Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned last week that a backlash against the controversial powers had gone too far.
“This power may have been used too freely in the past, but the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction,” she said, after officers told how they feared being accused of racism during stops.
Ms Dick said the Metropolitan Police is finding an increasing amount of weapons thanks to the law and the Sceptre anti-knife crime operation, which saw 199 firearms and 3,751 knives and offensive weapons seized.
“Weapons are too freely available on the streets of London and we need to keep taking them off the streets,” she added.
“Most young people never get involved in crime, most young people are not affected by crime, but in some of our communities there is a very real fear – and indeed for many parents there is a very realistic fear – that a member of their family could get involved and get hurt.”
Numerous teenagers are among the victims attacked in London so far this year, including a 13-year-old boy who was stabbed in Manor Park, East London on 5 April.
Many attacks remain unsolved, including the murder of 19-year-old Kelvin Odunuyi, who was shot in the head while standing outside a cinema in Haringey last month.
The drive-by shooting was believed to be part of an escalating “postcode war” between rival gangs in Wood Green and Tottenham, amid fears the phenomenon is driving tit-for-tat violence across London.
Asked why the rate of solved murders has fallen to 72 per cent, the commissioner said it was hard to reach the standard of proof required by courts in many gang-linked killings involving multiple suspects.
“A lot of these cases are not classic whodunits – more often than not we have a good idea of who was involved. Proving which one of those people did that is hard,” she added.
The teenagers murdered in London in 2018
“Very often nobody wants to tell us anything…these are hard cases to prove and tragic for the family if we cannot prove them.”
The rise in stabbings and shootings across London has sparked new initiatives from the government, which has passed more powers to mayor Sadiq Khan so a bespoke response can be formed in London.
This week, the Government laid out a new 114-page strategy to combat serious violence, which detailed a range of possible factors including the use of social media to intensify gang wars and changes in the drugs market.
Commander Jim Stokley, who heads the Trident gang unit, said officers had held meetings with senior representatives of social media companies about removing content that provokes violence such as YouTube videos.
The strategy was heavily criticised for failing to mention the plummeting number of police officers in Britain, which fell to the lowest number on record in September as recorded crime rose by 14 per cent nationwide.
Amber Rudd insisted that the government’s preferred measure of the Crime Survey of England and Wales shows crime is falling and denied seeing a leaked Home Office document suggesting cuts had ”likely contributed“ to rising violence.
Research carried out as part of the Serious Violence Strategy said offenders may have been ”encouraged“ by the lack of police resources and fall in charge rates.
The government has repeatedly refused appeals from police forces for a blanket increase in funding to combat increased demand, violence and the terror threat, while critics have accused Conservatives of fuelling gang crime with cuts to youth services that are vital to prevention work.
On Friday, Mr Khan accused the government of taking a “wrecking ball” to services amounting to almost £70m of cuts across London councils.
“The Tories have been desperately weak on crime – and as these shocking new statistics show – desperately weak on the causes of crime too,” the mayor said.
“The only people who are responsible for violent crimes are the criminals. And we need a properly funded police service to target them.
“But you simply can’t take a wrecking ball to youth services in this way without impacting on crime.”
A pioneering joint project in Islington that guides teenagers at risk of being drawn into gangs away from criminality into education and work is showing early signs of success, but relies on council investment that has not been mirrored elsewhere.
The Home Office has announced a new £11m Early Intervention Youth Fund for community projects and £3.6m for a centre coordinating work against “county lines” drug gangs, who frequently use children in their work.
“We need to engage with our young people early and to provide the incentives and credible alternatives that will prevent them from being drawn into crime in the first place,” Ms Rudd said earlier this week.
“I am clear that we must do whatever it takes to tackle this so that no parent has to bury their child.”
Additional reporting by PA