No quick wins when it comes to tackling knife crime
Stories about knife crime have become a depressingly frequent fixture in the national media.
It seems like it has become impossible to turn on the national news without hearing about a young life cut tragically short.
Families are ripped apart, friends and communities left devastated, often seemingly over some petty squabble that has escalated beyond all reasonable measure.
One incredibly striking response to the issue has been the Knife Angel – a 27ft sculpture made from 100,000 blades which have been handed into police across the country, and described by its creator – the artist Alfie Bradley – as a ‘monument against violence and aggression’.
The sculpture has been displayed in cities such as Liverpool, Hull and Coventry – whose Bishop, the Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth, described it as a ‘stark reminder of a form of violent crime’ threatening the lives of young people.
There is no doubt that, in big cities that have seen a particular problem with knife crime, the sculpture serves an excellent purpose in raising awareness of the issue.
But there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions in policing, and what might work in Liverpool would not necessarily be the right answer here in Dorset – which is why we will not be hosting the Knife Angel here in the county.
Taken on its own, without any context, the sculpture might not provide the reassurance to our communities that the project has achieved in urban areas.
In an area like ours, which has not seen the dramatic increases in knife crime portrayed by the media, it might instead lead to more concern and fear about the problem. There is even the danger that raising awareness of a problem that is felt much more deeply in other parts of the country could cause some people to believe the misconceived idea that they need to carry blades to protect themselves.
We don’t have the same issues that have been seen in the big cities, and a knee jerk response to a national problem would be the wrong approach.
That isn’t to say that we are being complacent.
While overall numbers locally are low – and Dorset remains one of the safest parts of the UK to live – knife crime is certainly on our radar.
We know, for example, that county lines gangs – who come here from metropolitan areas to sell drugs and often exploit vulnerable people in the process – bring knife crime with them. Blades are often the weapons of choice when it comes to settling drugs debts or scaring off competitors.
But it’s far from just being an imported problem. A large number of the cases we do see are related to domestic abuse, with people turning to whatever weapon is at hand – often a kitchen knife – in the heat of an argument, while other incidents are undeniably linked to mental health or drug and alcohol problems.
Enforcement is one element of how we are responding, with police using stop and search powers to target prolific knife carriers.
But with bladed items readily available, we can’t simply enforce our way out of the problem, and we need to put our energy into prevention by engaging early with young people and individuals on the edges of involvement with criminal activity.
Education is key to tackling this problem, and we need to make sure our children in Dorset know it’s NOT OK to walk around with a blade.
Our Safe Schools And Communities Team are carrying out work to educate young people who wrongly believe they need to carry knives either as a status symbol or because others are carrying them and they need protection.
The problem is far bigger than simply policing and there is a huge role for groups and individuals to play here – from youth and social workers to charities and of course families themselves.
We need to make sure that nobody falls through the gaps in services that support young people, or those with mental health or substance abuse problems.
One trend that has been seen nationally is that a huge amount of knife crime is carried out by young men and boys, and so we also need to challenge bogus masculine notions that violence is acceptable and that ‘real men carry knives’.
There will be no quick wins when it comes to tackling knife crime. It’s an issue that affects the whole of society – and the whole of society must work together if we are to deal with it.