There has been a recent resurgence in knife crime over the past year. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 32,000 knife crime offences in England and Wales in 2011 this had fallen to 25,000 by 2014. However, since 2014 the knife crime figures have risen alarmingly. In June 2017 the number of recorded knife crime offences was 37,000 and rising. This trend is obviously not good and it comes with a tragic human cost. Over the past week there has been a spate of fatal stabbings in London.
There has been much public hyperbole about this rise in violent crime (over 50 deaths have attributed to violent crime in London this year). In fact, the Home Office has embarrassed the home secretary this morning by issuing a report laying the blame for this surge in violent crime in falling police numbers. Despite the fact that Amber Rudd said that the crime wave has absolutely nothing to do with police numbers in a radio interview only hours before.
But the figures here can be problematic for those who want easy solutions to this problem. Police numbers in the UK have been falling consistency. In 2010 the number of police officers stood at 140,000. This had been reduced to around 120,000 by 2017, a drop of 20,000. Yet these figures seem to show that there is little link between violent crime and police numbers. In 2014- the low water mark for knife crime, the number of police officers had already been reduced by 10,000.
Then we come to the infamous stop and search issue. According to the Metropolitan Police, there has been a drop in stop and searches since 2017 to 8,500 in February 2018. So far things are pretty clear. If you reduce stop and search then knife crime increases. But don’t jump to conclusions yet! The vast majority of stop and searches (6000) result in ‘No Further Action’ (NFA). In fact, the London boroughs that are the most targeted for stop and search have the largest number of NFA outcomes. If stop and search were effective then the boroughs that were the most targeted should not top the list of boroughs were NFA is the most common result of those searches. Clearly stop and search is not the solution to this problem.
As a libertarian, I naturally don’t want to see the government ploughing vast sums of money into the police force. However, I also hate the idea of our streets not being safe. Of course, overall numbers of police officers will make some difference to crime. But we all should know by now that it is not the whole story. Many of the suggestions of measures that could be taken to reduce the tragic events that have occurred over the past week make vague references to helping communities and access to services. There has been a lot of nonsense said but there are some important grains of truth.
There is a real danger here that the government in response to the pressure it is under decides to pass some ham-fisted legislation restricting access to knives that will have no real impact on the level of crime but make the lives of ordinary people much more difficult. Similarly, in response to media coverage police forces may stage a staged ‘crackdown’.
Tackling knife crime (and youth crime generally) can be reduced to two things; opportunities and education. The things that actually do seem to have an impact on knife crime is quality of education and economic prospects. In other words, a system that values these young people as individuals and takes their potential economic contributions seriously. Clearly blanket legislation or an injection of funding will not solve this problem.