Knife Crime - What’s the solution, increase in police officers, tougher sentences or more restrictions?

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In the wake of two 17 year olds being murdered in knife attacks in Manchester & London in recent days, the UK clearly needs a solution to what seems to be an epidemic of blade carrying by the youth of our society. Our Damian Wall gives his comment on the reasons for the surge in violent crime, and what can be done to tackle it.

Government figures show that in the year to March 2018, cases of murder and manslaughter involving a knife or sharp instrument rose to 285. An increase of 73 compared with 2016/2017, and as reported by The Times the highest figure since the second world war, when records began.

Channel 4 [FOI Requests] finds offenders under 18 committing homicides with a blade rose by 77% from 2016 - 2018

What is the reason for an increase in knife crime?

Some say sentences are not tough enough and would call for new laws, tougher sentences and more restrictions to control the carrying of knives. Others would say that the reduction in police numbers is directly related to the increase of violent crime. Yesterday the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick seemed to disagree with Theresa May that there was ‘no direct correlation’ and said that there was ‘some link’ between dwindling police numbers and a surge in violence.

The Times report in February demonstrated that the North West of England saw some of the highest rises of serious knife crime offences and as experienced criminal defence lawyers in Manchester we see these problems at the coal face on a daily basis. We see young people for whom picking up a knife when leaving the house is as automatic to the rest of society who pick up their keys and mobile phone. Most of those we come across who are arrested and prosecuted in the courts after being found to be in possession of a knife or bladed instrument are young people, often appearing in the Youth Court.

Why do young people carry knives?

In our experience the reason often provided is that the knife was carried for their own protection. Yesterday I heard a caller on Jeremy Vine’s show who reported that her son had been threatened with a knife over a trivial comment made about the girlfriend of another youth.

We often hear stories from police officers about the problems they face as response officers, often with just a handful of officers covering vast areas of Greater Manchester on busy Friday and Saturday nights. A couple of weeks ago, Julia Bradbury was heavily criticised on social media following her comments to Matt Allwright on the BBC One Show about police tackling real crime like robbery and burglary instead of targeting speeding offences.

The Prime Minister chose her words very carefully when she said ‘no direct correlation’. But what if reduced police numbers mean an increase in low level crime, for example drug dealing on the streets. Low level dealing inevitably leads to high level dealing as minor drugs dealers move up the supply chain. The dealers are not prosecuted for drugs offences because there are not the numbers of police on the streets to arrest them. Police forces from time to time do conduct operations using undercover officers to test purchase from street dealers and sophisticated methods of surveillance. We read from time to time headlines like ‘Drug Gang Jailed for 100 years’ and week in week out we hear stories about ‘county lines’ drug dealing often using children to distribute drugs from one county to another. The politicians would say that drugs offences are falling, yes of course they are. But think about it, they are falling because the dealers are not being arrested, not because drug use is falling, just go and speak to an experienced doorman at one of the city centre night spots about how much drug use has increased.

Only yesterday I read in the Manchester Evening News about a Doctor who was an ‘asset to the NHS’ who managed to keep his job after a violent outburst and struggle with a police officer after taking a mixture of drugs including cocaine. Even after being handcuffed by police and placed in a police van his aggressiveness continued as he began to kick the van doors. At a GMC disciplinary hearing he was described by a senior doctor as being ‘competent, hard-working and reliable’ and it was said that he is ‘full of regret and apologies’. This is what a cocktail of drugs and alcohol does to a professional, imagine what it can do to somebody from a broken home, or an individual who has not had a decent upbringing?

Will government proposals for knife ASBO’s work?

In short my view is no. The question of whether government policies were working on knife crime were discussed by Rob Moussalli back in the summer of 2016 and the huge rise in figures above show that they have not worked at all. The Magistrates' Association, have also expressed doubts as to whether these new orders will address the complex root problems of offending.

What is a knife ASBO or Knife Crime Prevention Order?

A bill is currently before parliament to change the Offensive Weapons Bill to include this order. Similar in general principle to ASBO’s and other orders such as Sexual Risk Orders, such an order could, for example;

  • Prohibit movement, associations or specified activities.
  • Require the person to be at a particular place or report to a particular person

Whilst restrictions like those above might be useful, others such as; ‘using or having specified articles with them’ or ‘using the internet to facilitate or encourage crimes using bladed articles’ seem pretty pointless when they are likely to amount to criminal offences in any event.

An application for a KCPO can be made by chief police officers and must be with consultation with the Youth Offending Team for a person under 18. An order can only be made to a person aged 12 years or above if;

  • a) they are found to be carrying, without good reason, a bladed article in a public place (including a school) twice in a period of two years, and
  • b) the court believes it is necessary to impose an order to protect the public or prevent the young person from committing a crime with a bladed article.

Orders could be made for between 6 months and 2 years and breach of an order could result in a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment.

Conclusion – what is needed to reduce knife and violent crime?

It is wrong to simply say that it is down to low numbers of police and weak laws and sentences, there are a number of factors; austerity in recent years has not just left the police short of boots on the street, but reduced funding has also hit the probation service, and Youth Offending Teams. Education is crucial in my view, last year teachers were given a pay rise and the government said that they would pay for it, but actually the school pays the teachers not the government; whilst government may pay towards those rises in pay they often don’t pay for all of it, meaning that the school budget suffers and jobs are lost, increasing demands on schools and teachers who have less teachers and time to focus on the areas where knife crime can be tackled.

We as a society are well aware of austerity and the impact it has. We discussed the collapse of cases last year due to lack of disclosure where officers were clearly overwhelmed with the volume of digital material given the advances in technology in recent years. Within weeks the Attorney General confirmed the problems we’d highlighted in relation to disclosure. What this highlights is that these failings are impacting on victims of crime too.

If you need assistance with any criminal law matter, then please contact us

Damian Wall
Burton Copeland