The 360: How to stop Britain’s knife crime epidemic

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening?

Knife crime in London has been an increasing cause for concern over the past two years but new figures show the problem is not confined to the capital.

Figures released earlier this month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that across England and Wales, knife crime hit a record high in the year to June, up by 7% on the previous 12 months.

Police-recorded offences involving a knife or sharp instrument rose to 44,076, with high-profile cases like the death of Jodie Chesney in an east London park making the headlines for days.

Children as young as four have been caught with blades at school, while trauma doctors described the issue as an “epidemic” and spoke to young Londoners to see how they would solve it.

Illustrating the ongoing issue, just days after the figures were released, a man was arrested on suspicion of stabbing two teenagers to death at a house party in Milton Keynes.

Previous efforts to tackle the problem have come under fire - notably when the Home Office launched an anti-knife crime campaign in chicken shops, with politicians branding the initiative “crude and offensive.”

The police and the Government are now faced with the question of exactly how to tackle the scourge of knife crime.

Why there’s debate

Root causes of knife crime have been attributed to cuts to youth services, a lack of positive adult role models and a lack of employment opportunities.

As a result of these differing viewpoints, there is now debate on what exactly to do to tackle the problem.

Perhaps the most controversial of these is stop and search – where police have the power to question anyone at any time, while conducting searches if deemed necessary.

Supporters of these powers say they are necessary to removing knives from the streets, and are able to cite figures that show knife crime has been reduced as a result – including in Greater Manchester, which saw a 23% drop in those crimes after stop and search trebled.

However, opponents argue that stop and search unfairly targets people from ethnic minority backgrounds, with some even saying that the practice is “racist.”

While there is a focus on ridding the streets of crime, some believe the issue needs to be addressed before a knife is even picked up – using a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

Cuts to youth services have been blamed for stopping young people having an outlet to socialise, while a lack of trusted adults has been highlighted for youngsters lacking positive role models and therefore drifting into gangs and violence.

Religious leaders have said the answer is not punishment but rather allowing potential offenders the chance to give up their weapons without fear of punishment.

Knife amnesties, where blades and other weapons are given up anonymously, have previously been set up while supermarkets, including Asda, have removed single kitchen knives from sale in an attempt to curb their use in violent crime.

What’s next?

Evidence has suggested that stop and search only has a “minimal effect” on violent crime, according to a Home Office report.

It is not clear whether Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering a review of stop and search rules, which were relaxed in August as part of a crackdown on knife crime.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has taken measures, including funding a Violent Crime Taskforce and creating a £45m Young Londoners Fund that provides positive activities for young people as an alternative to crime.

Retailers are continuing to train staff on prohibiting the sale of knives to young people and tougher sentences for knife crime are increasing, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Perspectives

Stop and search is not as effective as some believe

“One only need look to the research published by the College of Policing in 2017 which stated that there was only limited evidence that stop and search tactics had a meaningful deterrent effect on crime. If research isn’t your thing then listen to the words of a chief constable who told the Guardian that “there are so many areas where we could improve the life chances of people, rather than arresting them and putting them into a conveyor belt of the criminal justice system, which often leads to them becoming harder and harsher criminals.” – Katrina Ffrench, The Guardian

Entire communities need to play their part

“This is not just the responsibility of the police, the council or the government. This is all of our responsibility to be glimmers of light and peace in our encounters and our conversations, especially among young people. We must speak truth about the impact of a decline in the numbers of police officers and youth workers. We must speak truth about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. We must speak truth about the desperate need for mentoring and support among our young people. We must also speak truth about the chronic impact that illegal drugs make in society, and not condone the different attitudes towards drugs that is crystallised between Eton and the Estate.” – Rt Rev Rob Wickham, Camden New Journal

Social inclusion is the key

“Calling for sociologists and criminologists to take the lead and help police, Commissioner Basu claimed that social inclusion was the key. Writing as one of those criminologists happy to answer his call, I support and echo Basu’s observations, that creation of greater inclusion and social mobility can go a long way to reducing not only extremism but also mindless street violence involving young people.” – Dr Robert Hesketh, The Big Issue

Knife Crime Prevention orders will stigmatise young people

“[Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s] proposals are flawed, because they are based on the fundamental misunderstanding that you can prevent violence by identifying and punishing those identified as ‘at risk’ of offending. But stigmatising young people as ‘risky’ draws them into conflict with the authorities, as young people become over-policed and over-surveilled.” – Jo Deakin and Laura Bui, University of Manchester

Young people need to be able to see a future for themselves

"It is not a problem that can be solved in isolation by individuals. It needs society to come together to provide the right pathways, mentors and opportunities to find support. Employers now working with Movement to Work have found that these young people are loyal, develop badly needed skills and that current workforces enjoy mentoring them. Meaningful employment is key to positive ambition. If young people see a bright future and potential careers, with positive guidance, we will all benefit, and looking at things starkly, fewer lives will be lost." – James Ashall, Movement To Work

A trusted adult can set potential offenders on the right path

“The magic ingredient is empathy. We need the police to be able to do their job against organised crime barons and henchmen, who deserve everything they get. We also need society to give young men alternatives. Crisis summits about ‘multi agency working’ are fine. But providing a troubled teenager with one trusted adult is what could make them feel safe enough to abandon mindless violence.” – Camilla Cavendish, The Financial Times

Knife amnesty bins should be set up in churches

“Churches on the ground have found themselves engaged and involved, either they are involved in wherever that situation has happened and they are called in to help the family or a funeral. Churches have come together to think of ways it can be part of the nexus of support, recognising it is not the solution but it can be part of the solution and that's the important thing. In the past there's been a jump to 'well if you had more youth clubs we might be able to do some sticking plaster work'. But we have to look at this holistically and look at the agencies we can work with to be part of the solution.” – Rev Canon Dr Rosemarie Mallett, The Telegraph

Stop and search entertains a racist fantasy

“As we speak, there will be young, white middle-class men smoking a joint at a campus university or having cocaine delivered to their dinner parties, but the police will be nowhere in sight. We cannot have different policing for different communities. It is inherently unfair. Stop and search is an integral cog in a racially disproportionate criminal justice system.” – David Lammy, The Guardian

Stop and search removes knives from the streets

"The feeling among officers in Birmingham is that the current operation is paying great dividends across the city. Arrests are up and with them numerous dangerous weapons have been removed from the streets. The message appears clearly understood. For too long police have been absent from the streets in any numbers, and this has encouraged a sense of licence amongst those carrying knives, whatever their initial motivation to do so. The Section 60 power itself was once utilised far more regularly and widely at local level in Birmingham to combat the threat of violence dynamically. Its use over last week has reminded us just how effective this tactic can be." – Richard Cooke, The Telegraph

Cuts need to be reversed to give young people places to socialise

“Often, a lot of young people who get wrapped up in these things come from quite stable families. We have to ensure that there are more meaningful things for our young people to do outside school hours – we need decent, proper activities that will expand our young people’s horizons and give them things they will enjoy doing in their local areas, which years of austerity have seen cut.” – MP Chuka Umunna, The Independent

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Top picture: Getty

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