There has been much written about the increasing problem of knife crime from a variety of sources in recent weeks. There have been figures and statistics supporting and disproving the impact of various methods from more stop and search by Police to just increasing police numbers and also the need for more `role models`.
The one area where there has been very little constructive input is from politicians who seem far too preoccupied with seeking to secure their own future. The worrying fact is that many young people will have no future at all unless something is done to reverse this trend and stop young people carrying and using knives.
I am not going to repeat the statistics or highlight a specific incident as both have been done to excess in recent weeks. A quick glance at the news or speak to any police officer or paramedic and you will be informed unequivocally that knife crime is increasing and it is a serious problem. The politicians repeat the mantra that crime is down and overall crime is down but remember, that is reported crime and serious crime including knife crime has increased significantly. I served as a police officer for over 30 years and was threatened with a knife on several occasions and dealt with a few stabbings. I speak to former colleagues and knife crimes are now weekly incidents and in some parts of London it is becoming a daily occurrence. Remember again, those are only the ones reported to the Police or ambulance service and undoubtedly there are knife fights or incidents where the emergency services are not informed. It is becoming as common a habit amongst some young people to carry a knife as it is their mobile phone or door key, and for some it is solely as a means of defence as everyone else is allegedly carrying a knife.
The main problem appears to be centred on London although it is likely to spread around the UK as other groups of youths mimic their capital city counterparts. These days they all engage and converse via social media and post videos of their disputes with rival groups and gangs where knives are often used to settle the argument. The newly installed Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, has recently announced an increase in the use of stop and search. This has already attracted criticism from some quarters that the use of stop and search will further alienate communities and young people from the Police.
Some have described stop and search as a tactic that can be used by Police to help them deal with this knife crime problem. I understand the terminology used but it is much more than just a tactic, it is a legal power and when properly and correctly applied it helps prevent and detect crime. Prevents and detects and those two words are key to indicating the limit of effective police involvement in knife crime. I often tell prospective police recruits that policing can be a blunt tool or implement in dealing with crime and offenders. The Police can identify or detect that a crime has taken place and then arrest or report the offender and effectively that is the end of their role in decision making. The Crown Prosecution Service make the decision to charge or proceed with the case NOT the Police and the Criminal Justice System then decides on any punishment if the offender is convicted. The effect of any sentence is not really monitored or assessed and if you speak to any of the young men convicted or arrested whilst carrying a knife they do not see conviction or any of the likely sentences as a deterrent. They would sooner carry a knife and be able to defend themselves than be the victim of a stabbing and if they are arrested and convicted then at least they are still alive. That is the stark reality of the problem we now face and it is a problem that isn’t just for the Police to solve.
The same critics of stop and search are the same ones demanding action from Police to eradicate this knife crime epidemic. They rarely offer any alternative viable options and from a policing perspective the issue is quite straight forward, carry a knife on the streets and you commit a crime. The way to find out if someone is carrying a knife is to search them as no one ever walks up to a police officer and announces that fact. Why do Police stop and search so many young people and why is there a higher proportion of black males? The answer is supplied by those same critics if you listen and read what they are asking for. Stop and search should be more targeted, directed and based on intelligence and not just randomly applied to anyone walking in a certain area. In my experience, those three things were applied and are still being done when using stop and search. When you are dealing weekly or daily with knife crime committed by young males and in some areas, frequently by young black males on young black males, then your focus for any searches will be in those social groups. That is intelligence based on your own knowledge and experience in the area you are working and you target those you know or suspect of being involved in crime. You cannot `balance the books` or make the figures look better by searching elderly white females or carrying out a knife crime initiative outside the Bank of England with a stop and search operation. The primary option for the Police to use in preventing and detecting knife crime is by carrying out more stop and search. It needs to be correctly and properly applied and if you have nothing to hide then why argue or complain? Should you not feel safer and reassured that the Police are taking positive action to make the streets safer?
The other methods or tactics in dealing with knife crime are not solely left for the Police. What have communities done to prevent this problem escalating? Are the parents of these young people sufficiently involved in their lives to know that their son or daughter is carrying a knife? Are they offering an alternative for these young people or are they just glad to have them out of the house for a while?
These methods are not within the remit of the Police service. Diversion of these young people away from crime and to find them something else to focus their energy on is for others to initiate. The problem is that initiatives cost money and they provide little or no tangible profit. The Metropolitan Police used to allow officers to set up and run sporting activity clubs within duty time and there were similar schemes across the UK. The budget cuts put paid to any `non-police` type activity and reduction in officer numbers meant you needed `PC Bloggs` driving a response car as opposed to holding football training or boxing training in a local youth club. It might just be another coincidence that closing many of these activity clubs involving and engaging with young people, together with the coincidence of reducing officer numbers and then reducing stop and search that has created this `perfect storm` and allowed knife crime to flourish…….or maybe not if you believe the political rhetoric.
I applaud the stance taken by Commissioner Cressida Dick by encouraging her officers to use the legal powers afforded to them. This is not just a Police problem to solve and after these young men have been arrested and convicted and sentenced then what happens? Policing has a limited impact on this type of crime and if a young person wants to carry a knife then they will unless their own families, community, friends and neighbours encourage them not to. In my view, the main issue here is deep rooted in society, in peoples’ values and by taking responsibility for your actions and behaviour. If you do not want your son or daughter convicted of a knife killing and imprisoned for years then stop them carrying a knife. If you do not want your son or daughter to be responsible for ending the life of another young person then stop them carrying a knife. If you do not want them to become the victim of a knife attack then encourage others to stop carrying knives and report anyone that is. The Police will work hard to prevent these tragic incidents taking place but they cannot do it alone and on occasions, need the public to act as the Police. Be a part of the eyes and ears the Police have lost in recent years and help prevent young people carrying knives in the first place.
This problem needs more than just an increase in stop and search or a specialised police squad to have any long lasting and constructive effect. The Police have given an indication of their intent to deal with the problem but communities and society need to do their part as well. Arrested, charged and convicted is only part of the solution or else the whole process is just repeated over and over again. That’s the limit of Policing and the blunt fact that all they can do is arrest those carrying knives. What happens next in court and at home is out of the hands of the Police service.