Knife crime has to be tackled at the cause
Watching the news the other day I was astounded that the media has now starting calling the recent spate of stabbings and fatal attacks 'a knife crime crisis.'
Although the press are never shy over exaggerating, this description is sadly closer to the truth.
Today (11/03), Wiltshire Police launches another Op Sceptre - a national knife crime awareness campaign which brings together UK forces to deliver a co-ordinated approach to tackle knife crime. This is in addition to the ongoing good work the police are already doing in crime prevention to reduce knife attacks on our streets.
You may remember our last successful one in September 2018 where we also had a knife amnesty and over 430 weapons were handed in.
Let's be clear, Wiltshire and Swindon doesn't have the level of knife crimes like the larger metropolitan areas like London, Birmingham and Manchester. In fact the latest ONS stats show an 18% decrease in reported knife crime in our county.
We will never be like Manchester and London because we have a fraction of the population and the county's demographic is different to that of big cities.
However, the county still suffers the same social issues that the larger conurbations do - deprivation, drugs and violence - some of the underlying issues which can lead to a rise in knife crime.
And the police here are not complacent; tackling knife crime is part of their daily business. I see it day in day out - officers carrying out stop and searches, making arrests and, equally as important, preventative work in schools and colleges.
Partnership working is also key and the police continue to work with the likes of the Youth Offending Team to help support preventative work. And early intervention is a major part of this crucial work - getting to the youngsters before they turn to use a blade for what they believe is protection.
Figures show that if you carry a knife - you are more likely to be hurt or possibly killed by another person doing the same, not to mention you could serve a jail sentence. The reasons why young people in particular choose to do this are complex and varied and trying to stop it also requires a whole host of work with a number of agencies - not just the police - to tackle this problem.
In Scotland, they have seen a marked reduction in knife crime by treating like a public health problem. This means they see it as a disease and deal with the causes rather than the symptoms. Police work with teachers, social and health workers to collate and share knowledge of people involved in gangs.
They treat it as not just a policing issue but an issue that needs everybody to be involved - schools, communities, hospitals, prisons and workplaces. It's a societal problem.
And in Wiltshire and Swindon I am seeing evidence of that approach already - tackling knife crime with a holistic view utilising resources and expertise from services across the board as well as utilising the criminal justice system when necessary; sometimes bad people just need locking up.
Imagine the problem is like a large jigsaw, you have to see it as a whole, completed picture and not just one small piece.
Also, let's not ignore the fact that cuts in youth services by government over the past few years have not helped the situation we have today. Fewer support services will inevitably lead to fewer problems being tackled at the root and more troubled youngsters being missed until they catch the police's eye.
However, we work with what little we have. In last week's blog I talked about a new multi-agency panel for first time young offenders which considers alternative disposals to Youth Cautions - allowing the perpetrator not to be necessarily criminalised but helped to restorative justice in the hope this will save them from entering the criminal justice system, a slippery slope to more serious crimes for some once they are in the system.
This new Youth Restorative Intervention Panel is just one example of how early intervention can help.
There are other positive schemes to help youngsters too:
· The Junior Good Citizen scheme - which I fully support - teaches school children life skills around keeping themselves and their community safe through practical sessions delivered by partners like the fire service, local council and Youth Offending Team.
· The Mini Police scheme- which I help fund - helps primary school children build relationships with local policing teams by learning more about police work and how they can proactively help to keep their community and school safe.
· Police Cadets - these are young people who give up their time to support police activities. Some use this as a way in to the police as a full time job, others use the life skills learnt to help them in whatever they choose to do post school/college.
All of these schemes help but there is no one solution to rid our country and county of knife crime. We all agree more needs to be done and more money needs to be spent on prevention; however, equally, we all need to take more responsibility for the signs of knife crime in our communities - to spot them early on so they get 'nipped in the bud' before turning in to a so called crisis.
Published on Monday 11 March 2019.