Police should reinstate regular knife and gun amnesties to remove weapons that could otherwise fuel street violence, says the police chief who smashed gun crime gangs in London.
Michael Fuller, Britain’s only ever black chief constable who was this week appointed a Home Office non-executive director to advise Priti Patel, said it was “old-fashioned” but an effective preventative measure.
Amnesties allow people to hand in weapons “with no questions asked” and with immunity from prosecution for possession, although a “suspicious” gun or knife may be analysed for links to previous crimes, which could lead to the prosecution of those involved.
They are generally targeted at those holding illegal weapons or ammunition and those keeping weapons without being aware of their illegal status. Past amnesties suggest as many as a quarter of the guns are “viable” weapons capable of being fired.
National amnesties have been staged irregularly, the last being in September 2019 as part of a crackdown on knife crime which also included raids, stop and search and weapons sweeps. More than 10,000 knives were seized and 1,372 suspects arrested.
“It might seem old fashioned but amnesties take guns and knives off the street that would otherwise be lying around in people’s cupboards and are liable to be stolen in burglaries,” said Mr Fuller.
“We have weapons brought in from various conflicts that the military have been involved in that are lying around. I don’t know why we are not continuing to run the amnesties that we did over a lengthy period and recovered huge amounts of knives and active working guns.
“I don’t think enough concentrated effort is being put into that. I would hope to be able to encourage the police to do that.”
Knife crime is at a record high with 46,265 offences in the 12 months to the end of March this year, up six per cent from the previous year. Gun has also increased with more than 9,700 firearms offences in the same period, up four per cent.
He also urged forces to adopt the Trident-model of targeted community-backed stops of known criminals to stem the surge in knife crime.
As a Met Police commander in the early 2000s before being appointed Kent’s chief constable, Mr Fuller led Operation Trident which wound up many of the predominantly black gangs behind a surge in gun crime in London.
He said its success stemmed from an initial 18 months he spent talking to “suspicious” communities to gain their confidence even though he faced internal criticism for the delay in stemming gun crime. “We ended up being inundated with really good quality intelligence,” he said.
“They told us who the criminals were who were involved in gun and knife crime, where they were, and where they operated. We spent the next four to five years capturing the top ten criminals who had been identified and were responsible for multiple murders.
“We knew enormous amounts of detail about how and where they operated, how they got their guns, whether other people carried the guns like girlfriends. Some of the knives and weapons were hidden in parks. The point was that we didn’t need to do stop and search. They were targeted stops.
“A lot of people say why not now do the same with knife crime but that hasn’t happened yet. You can tackle problems without doing massive stop and search operations that alienate whole communities to whom you then appeal for information.
“You alienate the very people who you need to support you particularly if it’s indiscriminate. Some people have this impression that I am against stop and search. That’s not the case at all. I believe you should be effective in who you stop, search and arrest by stopping and searching the right people.”
He said research by HM inspectorate suggested 80 per cent of those stopped and searched were innocent and cited the case of a police commissioner who saw the other side when he was stopped and “humiliated and patronised” by a brash constable who did not recognise him.
“The point is that there are other tactics that have been proven in terms of my own experience to be more effective,” added Mr Fuller.
He welcomed the 20,000 increase in officers and backed an expansion of neighbourhood policing though this needed to be accompanied by a focus on officers being “problem solvers.”
“We don’t just want officers walking around in uniform providing a presence. That’s not enough. They have got to be solving and tackling neighbourhood problems and issues whether reducing crime or antisocial behaviour,” he said.
He said he was “amazed” there was still not another black chief constable despite improvements in recruiting from BAME communities. He believed there needed to be better support for senior BAME officers to reach the top level.