What the Knife Crime Rise Stories Seemed to Miss

As a frontline neighbourhood officer I can “anecdotally” say it has become worryingly common to find knives stashed or carried on some estates where I work. The knife above, found while I was on patrol following a stop and search in March 2015, is just one 20cm-long example of the sort of weaponry that some young people either feel they have to carry to maintain their criminal enterprises or else think it acceptable to carry. I have no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of knives and weapons we recover are intended to be used to defend gang territory, gang members and the criminal enterprises operated by gangs (e.g. drug dealing).

So I was interested – but not surprised – to see the latest Crime Statistics for England and Wales showed an increase in knife crime (“offences involving knives or sharp instruments”). This received pretty widespread coverage including BBC News, along with an insight piece from Dominic Casciani (@BBCDomC):

…figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that knife offences rose by 2% in the year to March 2015. While that sounds small, it masks a really complex and concerning picture that raises important questions about why it’s going up again and whether the police tactics are right.

However, given my past life as a Crime & Justice Research Fellow at Policy Exchange, familiar with crime statistics, I know that when the media report “knife crime” they generally report only on “offences involving knives or sharp instruments”.

Media talk of “knife crime” completely excludes the offences of possessing an offensive weapon or pointed/bladed article. If you dig into the Crime Statistics you can see that these offences, which includes knives and firearms, is in fact much larger than the 2% rise: there has been a 6.2% increase in the possession of weapons offences in the year to March 2015.

weapons_chart_offences

When we dig even deeper, we find that the possession of articles with blades or points has increased 9.9% in the year to March 2015 – and as can be seen in the chart below, the number has been rising since 2012-13, with an increase of 7.4% in 2013-14.

possession_of_articles_points_blades_offences

Moving to offences relating to the possession of a firearm or possession of a firearm with intent, we see another significant increase of 7.0%, with the sub-group of possession of firearms with intent actually showing an increase of 18% (from 1,077 to 1,274).

possession_of_firearms_offences

It is worth bearing in mind that in the 12 months up to 31 March 2015 the number of police officers fell by a further 1,091 and the number of stop and searches carried out by police during the last period for which data is available (up to year ending 31 March 2014) fell by 12%, equating to 120,338 fewer stop and searches. Without turning this into a debate over the use of stop and search and the appropriate workforce strength within policing, it seems safe to assume that the underlying trend is an increase in the willingness of individuals to carry weapons.

These figures, listed below, seem both more concerning and more newsworthy than the 2% headline figure cited in relation to so-called (but in my view incomplete) “knife crime”:

  • Possession of weapon offences increased 6.2%
  • Possession of articles with blades or points has increased 9.9%
  • Possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm with intent (blended) increased 7%
  • Possession of firearms with intent increased 18%

The other consideration is the toll that this is taking on police officers. Unfortunately data on the number of police officers injured by weapons carried or used by criminals isn’t to my knowledge recorded – something that I have long thought needs correcting. Perhaps one of the HMIC, Home Office, the Police Federation for England and Wales or the National Police Chiefs Council might start meaningful data collection in this regard.

As a final thought experiment, for you the reader, what might have been the effect of news headlines citing a 9.9% (rather than 2%) increase in “knife crime”?

Update: Quick additional number crunching shows knife (points/blades) possession offences have increased 18.1% over the last two years.

About the Author

PC Rory Geoghegan
I was the Dedicated Ward Officer for Clapham Common Ward in the London Borough of Lambeth until May 2016. I’m a former strategy consultant and criminal justice researcher. As a Dedicated Ward Officer I was something of a foot and cycle patrol fanatic! All views expressed are/were personal opinions and the usual disclaimers apply.

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