Fri, 01 Feb 2019
In the week that the Home Secretary announced new measures to help tackle knife crime National Chair John Apter discusses why it will take more than a hashtag and re-versioned Asbos to solve the problem.
I have seen first-hand the devastating effect knife crime can have. The damage one small blade can do is infinite. A single incident - often lasting just seconds - can end one life and damage others irreparably.
And believe me there is nothing I, my members, and the public want more than an end to this terrible epidemic sweeping up our youngsters and blighting our communities.
I can see from the Home Secretary’s announcement that he is trying to make a difference – and I can’t fault his aims - but re-hashed ASBOs and a catchy hashtag are just tinkering around the edges of the problem.
These new proposals also target retailers who sell knives to children – but, let’s be honest, the main issue here isn’t the supply of these weapons – they are present in the kitchen of every home in the country, readily and easily accessible to those who feel they need to carry them.
Yesterday, I listened to an interview with two mums who had lost their sons as a result of knife crime. As a police officer, and a father myself, my heart broke for them. Hearing how their lives have been devastated by this insidious culture makes me more sure that in order solve this problem we need to tackle it right now - head on.
The police are not only answer – there is no panacea. This is a serious and complex issue and solving it will take time. I agree with the Home Secretary that we need a holistic public health approach. But the police service has to be at the heart of it.
This is not about criminalising children. It’s about intervention, help, support and, yes, deterrence. In many communities youngsters only see police officers in ‘emergency’ situations, when they are dealing with the aftermath of these violent crimes or searching for suspects, stopping and searching - putting their hands in pockets. Police become resented and feared - seen as unapproachable or even the enemy.
Surely it would be better if police officers were able to build relationships, be present in schools and communities, able spend time with young people, to be able to gain their trust and become the ones they turn to when they are in trouble or scared – rather than reaching for a knife for ‘protection’?
I also have some serious concerns about how these orders will work in practice. For them to be granted in the first place, files will need to be prepared and presented to court, heaping the burden of more paperwork on to the shoulders of detective teams already struggling to cope.
And when they are granted, who is going enforce them? We have lost almost 22,000 police officers since 2010 with 80 percent of them being taken from the front line – which means gone are the local teams who gathered intelligence about those carrying weapons, gone are the liaison officers who worked with communities to help divert those youngsters at risk of being drawn into this world, and gone are the proactive squads which actively target those who carry knives
At a time when we as a service are struggling to answer 999 calls, where are we going to find the resources to monitor social media accounts or do home visits at 10pm to make sure people are where they should be?
These are our children and this cannot be allowed to become the issue that defines a generation.
The Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and these children desperately need protection. But not in the form of a knife or a blade.
They need our country’s leaders to step up and make a real difference. The Government needs to invest in young people’s futures. Social care, youth services, education, community support, the health system and the police service – all have been decimated by the cuts.
I promise to work with ministers to help make a difference. I want to help prevent more lives being lost and more families being torn apart.
But we need more than what has been offered if it is to make a real difference, much more.
You have to ask - really what is more important – balanced spreadsheets or the lives of our children?
For me it isn’t a choice, it’s a duty – and I urge those in whose gift is it to act now to end this criminal waste of life.
© 2018 Police Federation of England & Wales