The Ultimate guide to Knife Crime

We have seen an exponentially increase in knife crime over the last few years, much like acid attacks. In this article we examine why knife crime is increasing, who is responsible with a few ideas of how it could be prevented.

We also look at the areas in the UK that knife crime is highest and how certain areas have in the past dealt and conquered these types of epidemics.

Along with that we look at how much social media inflames the problem and we explore how knife crime effects families and what the police are doing to tackle the problem.

And if you can, watch the amazing VICE video about knife crime 

1. What is Knife Crime?

The term ‘knife crime applies to any crime that involves a knife. This can include:

  • Carrying or trying to buy a knife if you’re under-18.
  • Threatening somebody with a knife. Carrying an illegal type of knife.
  • Harming somebody with a knife.
  • Committing murder with a knife.
  • Committing a mugging or burglary and using a knife as a weapon.

Some people carry knives for protection, vowing only to use them if a knife is pulled on them. However, research has shown that carrying a blade for any purpose actually increases your chances of falling victim to a knife-related crime.

2. Why Does Knife Crime Occur?

The most common answer to this question is ‘gang culture’, however this is both simplistic and largely inaccurate.

Police report that the vast majority of people caught with blades (75% of them, in fact) have no links to gangs.

This fact does not exonerate gangs (many gangs do indeed use and carry knives), but instead serves to demonstrate just how widespread knife crime really is. It is no longer simply a gang related issue.

If a person lives in a violent area, it is only natural that they would feel afraid when walking the streets alone.

With less police on the streets (recent government cuts to the police budget have been particularly severe), more and more people (especially young males) have taken to carrying knives for protection.

However, once they start carrying weapons of any kind, people often fall prey to ‘the weapons effect’, a psychological phenomenon first described by Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage in 1967.

Their findings suggest that the mere presence of a weapon can lead to more aggressive behaviour in humans.

Of course, there’s another answer to this question. There exists, as ever, a direct correlation between crime and poverty. As recent data suggests, over 14 Million people in the UK are presently living in poverty.

Desperation and dissatisfaction – both caused by poverty – can also be seen as probable causes for an increase in robbery and violent crime, a lot of which involves knives.

Essentially, the more knives are being used, the more people will carry them for protection, and so the cycle continues.

3. Is Knife Crime Increasing?

In general, knife-related crime is on the rise in the UK. The year ending March 2018 experienced the highest number of knife (or sharp object) related offences in at least 8 years (when such data was first collected) in England and Wales.

However, 2019 figures suggest that the number of knife-related murders is actually dropping, which may demonstrate that new police measures (covered in section 11) and public awareness campaigns are having a positive effect.

However, these figures are still far higher than they were just a few years earlier and there is much work to be done.

Between 2007 and 2015, the number of knife-related deaths in England and Wales appeared to be diminishing. However, from 2015 to 2016, these numbers began to radically increase, experiencing a 14% up-turn.

This upward trend continued into 2017, where knife-related murder rose by 34.4%. In fact, with 285 knife-related murders, 2017 was the worst year for knife killings since the Home Office Index began in 1946.

4. Who is Responsible for Knife Crime?

According to recent Home Office data, knife crime tends to be linked to poverty as well as poor standards of mental health. Shockingly, the peak age for people carrying knives is between 13 and 17.

Police figures suggest that young black men are statistically more likely to commit violent crime, but also that young black men are the most likely victims of such crimes.

Through a combination of simplistic data analysis and the political and social bias inherent to certain news outlets,

British media has been quick to link knife crime to young black men living in cities (especially London). However this is a heavily skewed and highly inaccurate picture.

The fact is that knife crime is worse in poorer areas and, since black people are disproportionately poorer, they are significantly more likely to be involved, both as perpetrators and victims.

Statistically speaking, the poorest ethnic groups in the UK would be Pakistani and Bangladeshi, followed by the African and Caribbean communities.

According to 2011 census data, Black people are more populous than Pakistani or Bangladeshi, with people of Pakistani origin making up 1.9% of the overall British population, Bangladeshis making up 0.7% and people of African or Caribbean descent making up a combined 3.0%.

The common, knee-jerk approach is to fabricate a logical progression between race and knife crime. This is completely erroneous, not to mention offensive.

The true, demonstrable progression lies between poverty and knife crime. Poverty, for example, can breed desperation, despair and depression, all of which can be linked to violence; this has been studied and documented on numerous occasions.

Research indicates that the poorer you are, the greater your chances of dying as a result of violence.

It is worth noting that from 2010 to 2016, long-term unemployment among 16-24-year-old ethnic minorities soared to 49%.

So the link between poverty and violence is clear and proven. On the other hand, to imply that any one race or culture is more predisposed to violence than another is simply a bigoted assumption backed up by nothing more than prejudice.

Once a broader view of the issue (and its contributing factors) is taken, race and/or ethnicity cease to have much, if any, impact on the data.

5. How Can Knife Crime be Prevented?

Long-term public information campaigns (already in effect in some places) can have a positive impact.

Education can also play a big part, as it has done with drug and alcohol awareness campaigns (numbers of young people experimenting with illegal substances have fallen radically in recent years).

If students could see the real, human damage caused by a knife attack, and be given some basic first aid and safety advice for dealing with or avoiding knife violence, it could quite literally save lives.

More police on the streets, which would go hand-in-hand with an increase in police budgets across the board, would also be a great preventative measure, along with more CCTV cameras to pick-up people carrying and brandishing knives.

Cross-party political groups aimed at tackling knife crime already exist in the UK, but a greater degree of cross-party cooperation is needed right now.

The tribalism of UK politics can lead to governments rejecting potential solutions out of hand simply because they have been presented by opposing parties.

CeaseFire is an anti-violence campaign created in the US by a doctor named Gary Slutkin. The campaign involves relating to violent crime as a social disease and treating it as you would a medical condition.

The first step involves identifying and locating the most ‘infectious’ (i.e unrepentantly violent) individuals. Presumably this includes harsher sentencing for such people. The second step involves changing the behaviour of the people most likely to be committing violent crimes.

It does this via the use of ‘credible messengers’ (often former gang leaders or infamous people) who explain that such action is unacceptable. Additionally, ‘interrupters’ are dispatched to hospitals, following the victims and talking friends and family members out of retaliation. After its inception in Chicago in 1995, CeaseFire saw shootings drop by 67%.

More Responsible Public Spending would definitely help. Cuts to public spending have led to the loss of vital youth centres and other activities used by young people.

These centres create safe spaces where young people can go to relax, engage in constructive projects and spend time among trained youth workers in an informal, yet supervised, environment. Additionally, underfunded hospitals staffed by overworked, underpaid doctors and nurses make it significantly harder for people to get the help they need.

Poverty in general, caused in part by a lack of jobs and worsened by cuts in welfare and benefits, is by far the most likely cause of the knife crime epidemic currently facing this country. Young people need to know that they have a future and that they are entitled to help along the way. 

6. Which Areas Experience the most Knife Crime?

According to recent data, London is the worst area in England or Wales when it comes to knife crime.

Though the capital leads by a considerable margin, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, North West England and the East Midlands occupy the 2,3,4 and 5 spots respectively.

It is a desperately sad situation, but in February of last year, London’s murder rate actually overtook that of New York City. Clearly, this is a very serious problem.

7. Why Does London Have so much Knife Crime?

While the debate continues as to the exact causes of knife crime in general, it may be helpful to ask why the numbers are so high for London itself.

In 2016, the ‘Centre for Cities’ think tank reported that 29 of the UKs 63 largest cities (excluding Belfast) are “low wage, high welfare economies”, with wages well below the national average and welfare spending routinely above it.

The capital, despite not featuring on the list, has been negatively affected by a decade of crippling austerity policies just like many other places.

High earners in the city may bring up the average wages, making the city appear richer than it actually is, while the rich/poor divide remains as deep as ever.

Another explanation might be that London is the UK’s most populous city by far.

Perhaps the larger population, many of whom live in poverty, are experiencing a kind of anxiety caused by overpopulation and crowding.

In 2017, London was announced as the 20th safest city in the world, even as knife crime figures in the capital soared.

This suggests that the rate of violent crime may have increased globally as well as nationally; with London being affected the same as anywhere else.

Last year, it was announced that London Mayor Sadiq Khan had pledged £1.4m towards a ‘comprehensive knife crime strategy’ that included 43 anti-knife crime projects across the city. Results so far have been promising, but are clearly not enough.

8. What did Scotland do to Reduce Knife Crime?

A 2005 study declared that Scotland was the most violent country in the developed world.

According to this report, the average Scottish person was 3 times as likely to be violently assaulted than the average American – and 30 times more likely than a Japanese person.

Just prior to this damning news, the Scottish government funded the creation of a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

This innovative strategy adopts a healthcare-inspired approach to the prevention of violent crime, and allows for police to work alongside specialists in areas like health, social work and education.

Perhaps inspired by Chicago’s CeaseFire initiative (see above), police and the VRU identified those most likely to offend (or re-offend) and invited them to attend Sherriff’s Court.

Attendance was voluntary, at which a warning would be issued. Offenders were told that if they were caught with weapons or performing violent acts they would be severely punished.

After this, these would-be offenders were talked to about the effects of knife violence and street violence in general. They even heard testimony from a grieving (and quite remarkable) mother who had lost her son.

Finally, they were offered help with housing, relocation, training, employment or anything else they may have needed. It effectively gave them a way out, a second chance, so to speak.

A huge amount of people simply gave up their violent ways on the spot and walked away from that world, there and then.

Youth work and educational programs were also stepped up, giving young people a better chance of avoiding such a lifestyle in the first place.

Apparently, these simple initiatives kept a lot of people out of prison and, more importantly, drastically reduced the level of violent crime in Scotland. There’s a lot of work still to be done, of course, but this is an excellent start.

9. How Does Knife Crime Affect Families?

Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child. Words could never do justice to the pain that must be felt by a mother or father who loses their son or daughter through an act of violence.

Furthermore, imagine the pain of watching your son or daughter being sent to prison for murder, If you live in a violent area and are afraid (probably with good reason), it can make you feel powerful, more confident, to carry a blade.

One man, name omitted, was interviewed exclusively for this feature. He talked openly about carrying a blade in his youth.

“I am not a violent person, but I lived in a violent area” he says, “it was more-or-less impossible to go out at night without at least getting yelled at or having something thrown at you. My brother was hospitalised after being attacked by a group of about 30 people. His face swelled up so much that he looked like the elephant man. One by one, my friends kept ending up in hospital. One night, a kid with Down’s syndrome was attacked with a brick, another night; a woman had an epileptic fit and was assaulted while on the ground. I told myself that it wasn’t going to be me. I kept a small blade in my pocket and I was prepared to use it if need be”

The man, now in his 30s, says he deeply regrets carrying the blade.

“When I think about what could have happened if I’d been caught with it, I shudder,” he says. “It became almost addictive. I took my knife everywhere. I wasn’t a confident guy and I’d always been a natural target for bullies, but this made me feel powerful and in control. It gave me confidence, but what would have happened if I’d used it on someone? I honestly have no idea – and I have to live with that. I just try to teach my child a better way so that she won’t grow up to make my mistakes”

The man says that two of the biggest factors that convinced him to get rid of the blade were his Auntie, who helped talk him out of carrying it and reading ‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr’,

“I thought, ‘he was being threatened way more than I ever was – and so were his wife and children, yet he never shied away from non-violence. He was committed to peace. I decided I wanted to follow his example rather than that of some cowardly thug”

If he had actually hurt, or even killed somebody, his crime would have affected everybody around him.

“Disarming was scary,” he says, “but the cycle can stop with you – if you let it”.

“Yes, I lost all that confidence, but I eventually realised that it was fake confidence I’d lost. It wasn’t mine. It came from the weapon in my pocket. Confidence that comes from your clothes or your car or whatever is fleeting, it can’t last. The only confidence that matters is the power that comes from within. Maybe that’s corny, but that’s the way I see it these days”

10. Does Social Media Play a Part in Knife Crime?

Last year, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick stated that social media was to blame for the rise in knife crime in the UK.

Whilst there are other, far more immediate causes of knife crime than Facebook or Twitter, it must be said that social media can definitely be a source of antagonism.

If, for example, a prominent gang member is beaten up and humiliated on video (a mean-spirited practice known to some as ‘happy slapping’)

That video is then uploaded to the Internet, said gang member must then find a way to restore their image. Assault with a weapon, for some, is the only logical response.

However, social media cannot be blamed for knife crime. It is, after all, quite difficult to stab somebody through a screen.

Social media plays a part in knife crime, certainly, but only inasmuch as it plays a part in every other aspect of our lives, from dating, baking and gaming though to politics, activism and humour.

Social media is a popular answer because it is an easy answer.

In the past, youth violence has been blamed on everything from pop music and pro wrestling to the Power Rangers. They can’t ALL be responsible, can they?

In reality, if we remove the relatively recent phenomenon of social media from the equation (after all, gang violence has existed far longer than Facebook has)

We have to deal with the real causes of violent crime, things like poverty, inequality, toxic home environments, child abuse, desperation, despair, anxiety, fear, institutionalised racism and callous governance at the highest level.

11. What are the Police doing about knife crime?

Many of the steps being taken by police have been detailed elsewhere in this feature. The truth is that the police in Great Britain are working extremely hard to tackle the knife crime epidemic.

They are doing a tough job under very difficult circumstances. They are painfully underfunded and stretched far too thinly to be 100% effective in this case.

Generally speaking, the widespread prevention methods espoused in this feature require acts of government, increases in public spending and free cooperation across the community.

Nevertheless, preventative measures are being taken. As part of the Home Office’sOperation Sceptre initiative, various constabularies up and down the country have declared ‘Knife Amnesties’,

Which allow people to surrender dangerous weapons to the police without facing questions or charges. One such amnesty in Dorset yielded over 400 weapons. In places like Maldon, Essex, specialKnife Amnesty Binshave been created. A complete list of these bins.

Policestop and searcheshave also increased in certain parts of the country.

Although invasive and often unpleasant, these searches have helped to get a lot of knives off the streets.

The police’sSafer Schoolsprogram sees police officers visiting schools to explain the dangers of knife crime to young people, while their website contains first-hand testimonials as well as useful information on the subject.

In Kent, special weapon-detecting doorways or ‘knife arches’ have been employed to prevent knives and other weapons from being brought in to public buildings and establishments.

Local police deployed the devices, which notified officers if a weapon was found.

Police are doing the best job they can, and many more initiatives like the ones mentioned are being considered and/or implemented even as you read this feature.

The sad truth is that, until the root causes of knife crime are identified, understood and finally stamped out, knife crime will continue to be a problem.