Knife Crime

After falling for several years, knife crime in England and Wales is rising again. So, what is happening?

Police-recorded knife crime has been rising consistently since 2014, with 39,818 incidents in the 12 months ending September 2018. This is a two-thirds increase from 2014.

Out of the 44 police forces in England and Wales, 42 have recorded a rise in knife crime since 2011.

Hospital admissions for incidents related to sharp objects have been rising and are at near-record levels (since records began in 1998), with around 5,000 cases in 2017. With doctors saying the injuries they were treating were becoming more severe and the victims were getting younger, with increasing numbers of girls involved.

Why is knife crime increasing?

The explanations for rising knife crime have ranged from police budget cuts, to gang violence and disputes between drug dealers. Some have also cited the steep decline in the use by police of stop and search.

From 2009, the number of stops fell sharply across England and Wales, especially in London, primarily because of concerns that the measures unfairly targeted young black men, wasted police resources and were ineffective at catching criminals.

Theresa May, as home secretary, led efforts to drive down the number of stops, but there’s anecdotal evidence from police that young people are now more inclined to carry knives because of growing confidence they won’t be stopped.

However, Scotland Yard, with the mayor of London’s support, has begun increasing the use of stop and search again.

How have Scotland managed to reduce their knife crime?

In 2005 Scotland had been branded the most violent country in the developed world with 137 murders in one year, 41 of those deaths in Glasgow alone, with it being dubbed the “murder capital” of Europe. Strathclyde Police decided a different approach was needed to tackle violence and founded the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

In 2006 the SVRU was expanded into a national unit and is directly funded by the Scottish Government with an annual budget of around a million pounds. They have a team of serving police officers, civilian police staff, experts and people with lived experience work closely with colleagues and partners across health, education, social work and many other fields. The VRU targets violence in all its forms, including street/gang violence, domestic abuse, school bullying and workplace bullying.

The VRU have adopted a public health approach which treats violence as a disease. They seek to diagnose and analyse the root causes of violence in Scotland, then develop and evaluate solutions which can be scaled-up across the country. 

A key part of the VRU’s work is developing early childhood initiatives that support parents and those involved in teaching young children. These initiatives aim to give children skills that will keep them from becoming involved in violence later in life.

The VRU has given evidence to government finance committees on preventative spending, urging government support for parenting programmes and life skills development programmes as a way to reduce violence in the long run.

Since the establishment of the VRU Scotland has seen homicides fall to their lowest level since 1976 with the latest figures showing a 39% decrease over the last decade.

What is being done to tackle knife crime in England and Wales?

Following the success of the Scottish VRU, one was set up in London copying some of the work of the Scottish unit, with Lib Peck, the former leader of Lambeth council, appointed to head it in January 2019. Peck said in June 2019 that increased use of stop and search in the early part of the programme had been successful. Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that he was giving £35m to police and crime commissioners in 18 local areas to set up their own local violence reduction units.

It was announced in June 2019 that the Home Office was to supply funding of £3.37m to set up a VRU in the West Midlands.

Hopefully those in charge of the new VRU programmes will be as successful as their Scottish counterparts.

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