Getting to grips with knife crime
Today, the Home Office launched a new campaign to reduce knife crime among young people. We’re seeing an upward trend in offences involving a knife or sharp instrument being recorded by police nationally. While overall numbers locally are low, we must get to grips with the issue.
Enforcement is just one strand to consider. There are clear links between drugs and knife crime, with roughly a quarter of cases in Dorset thought to be related to drug debt or organised criminality. Police must use this intelligence to use stop and search powers in an effective way, targeting those known to be prolific knife carriers who present the greatest threat.
But knives and other bladed items are too readily available for policing to enforce its way out of the problem. We need to put our energy into prevention as well as reaction. Real intervention means engaging early with young people and those individuals who are on the edges of involvement with criminal activity.
Nationally, we know that children, often from unsupportive backgrounds, are being targeted by organised crime groups to carry drugs for them and sometimes knives. The individual may come to see the drug network as family but the reality is that they are being exploited, putting themselves in danger and are disposable to whomever is grooming them. They need help in developing the capacity to make positive decisions around their peer groups, involvement in crime and carrying weapons.
I’m concerned that some of our teenagers are worried about people with knives or weapons. We don’t want young people to carry knives, whether as a status symbol or because they misguidedly believe everyone else is. There is a role for our Safe Schools & Communities Team to continue to educate and challenge misperceptions.
We need to change mind-sets on a number of levels and learn from the successes seen in Scotland where knife crime is viewed through a public health lens, which recognises that we must change attitudes towards violence more generally.
While we are fortunate to live in a county infrequently affected by knife crime, a significant proportion of the incidents we do see are related to domestic abuse. The act of violence itself may not be pre-meditated and the weapon used may vary depending on what’s to hand. Challenging the acceptability of violence through courses designed to change behaviours and working with the partners to effectively safeguard those at risk must be the primary focus.
Other cases categorised as ‘knife crime’ are undeniably linked to mental health or drug and alcohol problems. Again, the answer lies not in fixating on the particular weapon used, but in addressing the underlying causes so that violence involving a bladed weapon isn’t the end product.
Finally, it’s striking that the majority of knife crime incidents nationally involve men and boys. If this is influenced by traditional perceptions of masculinity based on aggression and violence, we must change the narrative: “real men” don’t carry knives. We need to ensure that no one falls through possible gaps in services that support young people in pursuing a life free from criminal activity. Community organisations, youth workers, educators, charities, social workers and families all have an important role to play here.
Knife crime goes beyond policing. It’s a public health issue. It’s an education issue. It’s an attitude issue. Above all, it’s a community issue.
PCC Martyn Underhill