Ministers urged to scrap knife-crime ‘ASBOs’ after Black men and boys disproportionately hit

Knife Crime Prevention Orders were handed to people police believed to be carrying knives, in a pilot scheme (PA) (PA Archive)
Knife Crime Prevention Orders were handed to people police believed to be carrying knives, in a pilot scheme (PA) (PA Archive)

Knife-crime ‘‘ASBOs’’ being trialled in the capital are disproportionately affecting young Black men and boys, new figures reveal, as experts call for the “highly discriminatory” scheme to be scrapped.

Court orders preventing individuals as young as 12 from carrying knives, known as Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs), were first introduced in London in a Metropolitan Police pilot scheme in 2021, with plans for a nationwide rollout in the future.

The orders can be handed to anyone police believe may be carrying knives and can include conditions such as curfews, restrictions on travel to certain areas and curbs on social media use – as well as requirements to attend educational courses or counselling.

Experts have now called for the Home Office to halt any further rollout after early data from the pilot revealed 64 per cent of those impacted by the orders were Black.

Official results from the trial, which concluded in March, have not yet been published. But data obtained by StopWatch, a research and campaign group focussed on stop and search tactics and policing of marginalised communities, revealed that 138 KCPOs had been imposed as of February 2023 – with the youngest recipient just 13.

Holly Bird, StopWatch’s policy and research officer, said: “The data tells us exactly what we had expected: that these orders disproportionately target young Black men and boys.”

The majority of recipients were Black (64 per cent), while 25 per cent were white, almost 6 per cent were Asian and a similar number were Arabic.

Launching the pilot in 2021, then-home secretary Priti Patel claimed KCPOs would “crack down” on knife crime and help “steer” people away from violence.

Prosecutors can apply for a KCPO to be imposed if a person is convicted of a knife-related offence. Police can also apply for one without a conviction, if they can show a magistrate that on the “balance of probabilities” the person has carried a bladed article on at least two occasions.

However, a recent report from human rights charity Justice found there had been an “explosion” in behavioural reform orders in recent years, including KCPOs, but warned they should not be seen as “a magic bullet” in addressing matters of public safety and security.

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed KCPOs would ‘crack down’ on knife crime (PA) (PA Wire)
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed KCPOs would ‘crack down’ on knife crime (PA) (PA Wire)

Researchers said that successive governments have failed to provide “robust evidence” of their effectiveness, adding that there are data gaps and “no clear mechanism” for measuring results, including if they have prevented further offending.

Researchers also found orders can be “highly discriminatory” and “unduly punitive”, with children particularly likely to breach stringent conditions and be drawn deeper into the justice system.

A working party which put together the report said they heard criticisms that behaviour orders were a “knee-jerk reaction” to complex issues, and fail to tackle the root causes of knife crime such as poverty, inequality and education.

Justice lawyer Andrea Fraser called for the scheme’s expansion to be halted and said there needed to be greater focus on community-led interventions.

She told The Independent: “We all want safe and fair communities for young people to grow up in, which is why the government must tackle the causes of crime by addressing poverty, closing the educational attainment gap, and investing in youth services.

“In contrast, KCPOs, like other “modern-day ASBOs”, over-promise and under-deliver. They push children and young people further into the criminal justice system, isolating them from positive support networks.

The number of people killed with a sharp instrument, including knives, in England and Wales in the year to March 2022 was 261, the highest since records began  (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)
The number of people killed with a sharp instrument, including knives, in England and Wales in the year to March 2022 was 261, the highest since records began (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

“These orders are mainly imposed on Black children and young people, and emerging evidence highlights the risk of them being used discriminatorily. We urge the Home Office to halt the national rollout and instead focus on community-led solutions.”

Ms Bird, of StopWatch, which obtained data from the pilot via a Freedom of Information request, said expanding KCPOs across England and Wales would be a “huge mistake”.

“These excessively punitive orders are extremely unlikely to be an effective tool when it comes to addressing ‘knife crime’,” she told The Independent.

“Instead, they will simply draw more young people (and especially young people of colour) into an already racist criminal justice system, and will do little to break cycles of violence and harm.”

She added: “Rolling out KCPOs nationwide would be a huge mistake – they should be scrapped entirely.

“As with so many other civil orders, it’s clear that the government want to roll out KCPOs not because these orders will be an effective, evidence-based, holistic way of dealing with youth violence or protecting victims, but rather so that the Conservatives can demonstrate their ‘tough on crime’ credentials and show voters that they’re ‘doing something’ about the issue.”

Knife-crime campaigner Patrick Green, CEO of the Ben Kinsella Trust, called for a move away from “quick fix” solutions to tackling knife crime, adding that for KCPOs to be an effective tool there needs to be a programme of support to help prevent breaches.

Instead, efforts should focus on evidence-based intervention programmes to address the “root causes” of knife crime, he said.

He added: “I have always harboured reservations about the use of Knife Crime Prevention Orders as a way to tackle knife crime. There is a risk that KCPOs can draw young people into the criminal justice system, rather than away from it.  By further marginalising them, we make it more difficult for them to find support and turn their lives around.  Achieving the exact opposite of what we set out to do.”

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), used to stop anyone aged 10 or over from harassing, causing alarm or distress to others, were scrapped in 2014 and replaced with civil injunctions and Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs).

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who opened London’s Violence Reduction Unit to help with early intervention projects to tackle knife crime in the capital, is said to be awaiting the final evaluation from the KCPO pilot.

However, responding to the figures, a spokesman said that all policing powers must be used “proportionately”.

The spokesman added: “The piloting of Knife Crime Prevention Orders is one tool in a much larger package of measures being used by the Metropolitan Police to tackle violence and help make London safer for everyone.

“The Mayor has always been clear that all policing powers, including those used in this scheme, must be used proportionately in our communities. We will be reviewing the final evaluation of the pilot to ensure that any disproportionate impact is properly scrutinised along with the pilot’s overall effectiveness in preventing violence.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Knife crime tears families apart and we are committed to addressing the root causes of this violence.

“Behavioural orders, such as Knife Crime Prevention Orders, can provide additional tools for the police to help manage risk. We are also investing heavily in a twin-track approach to reducing violence, which combines early intervention and prevention with tough enforcement measures.”

The Independent approached the Metropolitan Police for comment.