How to solve knife crime

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The Week

Experts say strategies need to move beyond legal crackdowns

The most recent fatal attack occurred on Monday night, when a 16-year-old boy was found with stab wounds in Tulse Hill, in the south of the city. Despite efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

The spate of killings began last Thursday when Jay Hughes, 16, was found with stab wounds outside a chicken shop in Bellingham, southeast London. He was rushed to hospital but later died.

Knife crime has claimed a total of 74 lives in London so far this year. Mayor Sadiq Khan recently told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that solving the problem could take up to a decade.

So what can be done?

Law and education

Under current UK laws, it is illegal for anyone to sell a knife to someone who is under 18 years of age, unless it has a “folding blade 3in long (7.62cm) or less”, says government website Gov.UK. It is also illegal to carry a knife in public without “good reason”, and there is a long list of banned knives, ranging from batons to sword-sticks.

An 80-page London Knife Crime strategy issued by the London mayor in 2017 includes advice for knife retailers in London. These retailers can also access training to ensure the “securing of knives to prevent shoplifting and to increase the interaction between the purchaser and staff to reduce the risk of ‘accidental’ sales”.

Rebuilding trust

Despite efforts to tackle knife crime, many London residents still believe the Government is not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Following last week’s fatal stabbing in Bellingham, a local resident told the BBC that he believed many youngsters were carrying knives out of fear, in order to defend themselves.

One solution to this issue is to “improve relations between the police and young people”, says Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, a charity working for justice reform.

In an article for the London Evening Standard earlier this year, Gibbs said two high-profile stabbings in her own area, Kentish Town, had involved boys of the Somali community, but noted that she had never seen a police officer of Somali origin.

Calling for increased diversity in the force, she says: “Until the police become relevant to London teenagers, the least fearful will view crime as something you endure, while the most fearful will ‘tool up’.”

Gibbs also urged police to ensure that stop and search operations do not disproportionately target black and minority ethnic communities, noting that the issue has increased distrust while failing to reduce knife crime.

Holistic approach

A public health model adopted in Glasgow following a string of stabbing fatalities in 2007 has proven effective, with homicides in the Scottish city almost halved.

Dr Christine Goodall, director of Glasgow-based charity Medics Against Violence, told The Guardian: “It’s absolutely not just a policing issue, it involves everybody: schools, communities, hospital, prisons, and we work in workplaces as well.”

“Placing all of the responsibility on the police to enforce a the law and the courts to punish offence will not reduce [crime],” she added.

Goodall believes that a key part of tackling the issue is to educate young people about the reality of knife crime and its dangers, who “carry with them a lot of myths about the safety of violence”.

Charity boss Gibbs is calling for a similar initiative in London, to “offer these boys a different aspiration, just as the Glasgow authorities did”.

Writing in the Evening Standard, she concludes: “The provision of treatment for trauma, training opportunities, and jobs may seem like soft justice. But prison is a dead end. We need practical, common-sense solutions if we are to stem the flow of bodies.”

 

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