A Beat Bobby’s Reflections on Knife Crime

Photo Credit: @LAS_JRU

I remember going to my first stabbing. It must be about 4 years ago now. We had been called to a very noisy house party and disturbance on one of the upper floors of a large tower block. On coming out of the stairwell into the landing, it was a sea of young people from teenagers up to 30 year olds. After clearing the landing and sending people out, lying on the floor were weapons of varying sorts, including hammers. Obviously dropped when the crowd had seen police arrive.

We cleared the landing and the music got turned down. We then made our way back outside and all of a sudden some women started screaming that someone had been stabbed, and on running towards them they pointed up the road. Looking down on the floor, I saw dark drops of what was obviously blood. Further up the road, collapsed on the ground, surrounded by a group of girls was a young man. He had several stab wounds to his chest and more to his legs and groin. He was pale, sweaty and – to be honest – looked and sounded like he was dying.

He was lying on a cold, wet, dirty pavement in a dark corner of a London street, late at night. His friends were hysterical, shouting, shrieking and screaming. This could well have been the end of another young man’s life. I remember eventually getting home afterwards, and, in the days that followed, feeling angered by the lack of any media coverage for what had essentially been an attempted murder – by stabbing – in the street.

Having seen the look of terror in the eyes of that young man fearing and believing that he was about to die, I know that when I do find a knife, I’m doing far more than just taking a knife off the street. I’m potentially saving the life of another young person, at least for another day:

In the Abbeville Road and Clapham Common area the team and I regularly conduct weapon sweeps to help take weapons off the streets. The examples below demonstrate the sorts of objects we find through these sweeps – and through stop and search. They’ve all (with, one exception) been found by the local neighbourhood team.

The use of stop and search to target those suspected of carrying offensive weapons and knives is vital to getting weapons off the streets. Without stop and search powers, the weapons found stashed in stairwells on local estates would not be stashed there. Without the deterrent provided by stop and search they would, I suggest, all be carried.

Take for example the knives below. Instead of being hidden in public spaces, they would most likely be tucked in the waistbands of young men out and about in Clapham. They’d be accessible instantly, on impulse, in the heat of the moment. In short, I think they’d be used more often.

The finding of knives is sadly a regular part of my work. But, while it is a regular occurrence, the recovery of each and every one is potentially a life saved that day or that night. Seemingly, it only takes a moment of madness, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or some other unfortunate alignment of stars to trigger a stabbing – and set off an explosion of grief and trauma reverberating through families, communities, estates, cities and even entire nations.

Stop and search doesn’t just help keep weapons out of the immediate grasp of young men, by encouraging them to stash them in stairwells or other places. It also means as police officers we can actually take weapons off people who are carrying them in the street.

An example from just the other day demonstrates both the willingness of individuals to carry knives, but also the precarious knife edge (for want of a better term) on which individual acts of serious, often youth, violence teeter.

When two knives are found in close temporal (30 minutes) and geographic (maybe 100 metres) proximity, it has to be a cause for concern. One knife stashed in a stairwell by parties unknown, the other being carried. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate coincidence.

Unfortunately, all it sometimes takes for a knife to be pulled and used is an unfortunate coincidence – the meeting of two rival gang members for instance, or just two young men passing by and one thinking, whether correctly or not, that the other “looked at him wrong” or “disrespected” him.

Just a few days after I found these two knives, my colleagues found another knife and arrested another suspect following a foot chase in the same part of Clapham:

Without stop and search, none of these knives would likely have been recovered until after they had been used against someone. Instead, there would be three (more) young men freely walking the streets of Clapham carrying knives. Ticking time bombs, walking the streets, feeling invincible. Sooner or later, a dirty look, an act of disrespect or a rivalry, whether real or imagined, might just precipitate the spilling of blood that leads to that most hideous explosion of grief through a family and community.

And so, with all that in mind, when I see the simplistic statistical juxtaposition of “stop searches” against misunderstood and lazily-covered “knife crime” used to somehow create or reinforce public doubt on the use and value of stop and search as a valid or effective policing response to “knife crime”, I get frustrated.

I’m sure that StopWatch and their supporters want to see fewer people carrying knives – just as I do. Education obviously has a role to play (see the excellent work by the Ben Kinsella Trust (@KinsellaTrust) among others), but when people are carrying knives (often habitually, in spite of education), it will always fall to the police to enforce the law and protect human life.

Stop and search is a vital tool to protect the public (including the lives of knife carrying young men) and prevent crime. As the following photos demonstrate, nobody is doing more in 2015 to actively and successfully save lives by physically getting knives off the street than hard-working determined front line police officers.

In closing, as a bobby on the beat, it is time for the debate regarding both knife crime and stop and search to refocus and rebalance: stop and search saves lives.

I don’t like seeing people lying dying in the street; I don’t like having to undress them to find their multiple stab wounds; I don’t like having to hold their guts in; I don’t like struggling to affix dressings to bloodied and sweat-drenched bodies; I don’t like the sadness, anger and fear that ripples through classrooms and staffrooms; and I really don’t want any more families to have to suffer a living nightmare.

That’s why I will continue to use every lawful tactic at my disposal, including stop and search, to get knives off the street. It’s also why I urge parents, carers, family members and friends of knife carriers to help keep their loved ones alive by telling us (or CrimeStoppers) who is carrying.

I leave the last words to the family and friends of Ben Kinsella and the mother of Godwin Lawson, who without doubt are left to serve the longest and harshest sentences of all.

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.

1 Comment on "A Beat Bobby’s Reflections on Knife Crime"

  1. Well written, informative and entirely accurate description of what is happening on our streets from someone working in the real world of policing. Stop & search saves lives should become a #. If the erosion of stop and search powers is not stopped and even reversed many more families and individuals will suffer the consequences as described in this article.

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