By Helen Wells
Knife crime has again dominated the news this week as the number of teenagers killed by knives in London since the start of the year reaches 18. A review of news coverage about knife crime from just one day this week reveals a variety of different solutions to the problem being proposed across the Government, opposition, campaign groups and the media itself. Ideas include situational crime prevention, early intervention, and general deterrence and, as such, demonstrate a variety of different assumptions about how and why crime happens and can be prevented from happening. However, there is also some scepticism about what the statistics are ‘really’ telling us about the problem.
David Cameron suggests that prison is the answer for anyone found carrying a knife without good cause. He says “The Government should say not just that there is a presumption you will be prosecuted if you carry a knife, but that there will be a presumptions that you will go to jail. It is not a minor offence. There is no excuse for carrying a knife when you walk out of your door.” However, he also suggests that the breakdown of family life has played a part in the current “epidemic”, and suggests that, as part of his Knife Crime Action Plan, “family measures” should be combined with a clamp down on school discipline and a National Citizens Service scheme – much like national service – for 16 year olds. (The Sun, 7th July 2008)
Cherie Blair, in her role as the Chair of the Street Weapons Commission told the Daily Telegraph that she believes “that there are no quick fixes to solve the problems of gun and knife violence in Britain.” She cautioned that no single policy would “reverse the trend of young people carrying weapons…but an effective response will need action from a wide range of organisations - from central government, the police, local authorities, schools, communities and individuals.” The report of the Street Weapons Commission (link) recommends “rigorous action by the police through intelligence led targeting of 'impact players’, focussing on weapon crime 'hotspots’, and preventing criminal gangs from operating, and so helping remove the glamour and financial rewards of criminality [as well as] more support for voluntary and community groups working on the ground with vulnerable young people”. It, too, believes a combination of enforcement prevention is the answer: “Enforcement has a crucial preventative role in itself that needs to be acknowledged. All ways of dealing with knife and gun crime have an important role to play and there is more to do through all means of tackling the problem - diversion, support and sanction.” (Daily Telegraph, 7th July 2008)
Other reports suggested that hospital and school employees had begun to demand body armour to protect them amid fears of stabbings by members of the public. The Daily Express claimed there has been a “stampede” from doctors, nurses and teachers when they were offered protective vests by a private company. (Daily Express, 7th July 2008)
Elsewhere, suggestions have been made that we need to know more about the problem before we can hope to solve it. Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary) has suggested that hospital staff should be compelled to inform police when patients are treated for stab wounds in the same way that they have to report gunshot wounds. She said that this would help to establish the true scale of knife crime in Britain amid concern that many offences go unreported. (Daily Telegraph, 7th July 2008)
Also sceptical about our level of knowledge about knife crime are most police officers, according to a ‘think-tank report’ reported by the Daily Telegraph. 80% of police officers apparently think that knife crime has got worse in the last five years. The Telegraph reports that “Its findings are in stark contrast with the British Crime Survey, which states that the level of knife crime has remained stable in recent years.”
Of crucial importance here is the fact that the British Crime Survey does not include interviews with under 16s about their experiences of crime. In May this year the BCS launched consultation on the issue of extending its methodology to include under 16’s experiences of victimisation. (www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs08/bcs-consultation-0508.pdf)