Knife crime, in Birmingham has been said to be at crisis point; in the West Midlands alone, knife crime has increased by approximately “85% since 2012” (West Midlands Police Violence Reduction, 2019). The West Midlands police is the second largest police force within England covering regions including, Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.
Three Yards’ is the title of this project with its aims and objectives including;
- To develop a multi-agency approach, ensuring working with the appropriate partnerships.
- Begin developing an appropriate strategy for those involved in knife crime, including both victims and offenders.
- To establish a carefully constructed initiative in the hope of reducing knife crime within the young male BME communities in disadvantaged areas in Birmingham.
- To protect those deemed vulnerable to knife crime within society.
Whilst the Crime Survey for England and Wales reports a stability on overall crime within the UK, individual crime types which are “less frequently occurring but higher-harm types of violence” (Elkin, 2019) such as knife crime are increasing, with most of these offences occurring in London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. The House of Commons Library (2019) report on current knife crime in England and Wales, highlights that the extent of the problem is increasing: offences started to decline from the years 2010/11 until 2013/14 before rising again for the past five years. The extent of knife crime in Birmingham has been referred to by David Jamieson, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the West Midlands as a state of “national emergency” (Parveen and Halliday, 2019). Parveen and Halliday (2019) reported that official data suggested violent crimes has increased “four times faster in Birmingham than in London” and between the months of April and September 2018, “Birmingham’s murder rate per capita was higher than London’s”. In 2018 alone an estimated “700 children in the West Midlands police area were victims of knife crime” (Cook, 2019), indicating that, Birmingham has hit an epidemic. Overall, knife crime in England and Wales has increased by 42% since the year 2010/11 (House of Commons Library, 2019). It has been estimated in a BBC London's knife crime hotspots revealed report (2019) that to every 10,000 people in Birmingham there are 15.1 knife crimes committed, showing a 1.4 growth between 2016 and 2018.
Since the beginning of 2019, Birmingham has seen 269 stabbings; the most media focused stabbings were of three teenage males stabbed to death in Birmingham suburbs within days of each other. Eades et al., (2007) reports that young people- most likely young males, those living in disadvantaged areas, and identify as a member of black and minority ethnic communities - are affected by knife crime at a larger degree. It is argued that the BME communities are largely “disproportionately concentrated in deprived areas” (Eades et al., 2007) meaning this particular community is more at risk of becoming a victim to knife crime: as an offender or victim of the crime itself.
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Many police professionals believe that the rise in knife crime results from the cuts and underfunding of the police force across the nation; Chief constable- Francis Habgood, stated: “its common sense that a reduction in the number of police officers was linked to knife crime” (Bbc.co.uk, 2019). An issue that the initiative may face, is the lack of resources available to the stakeholders, due to government cuts on the public sector. The UK is seeing moral panic around the issue of knife crime.
An issue that may further the problem is fear amongst young people: fear of gangs and crime itself, as they lean on knife use to keep them safe. Previously, knife crime was commonly associated with gang-related issues; however, it is now estimated that “75% of those caught have no connection to gangs” (Ashmall, 2016). Although this is still a prominent issue in major cities, it is not the biggest cause of the increase in knife crime, essentially making it harder for police forces to know who to tackle. Social media also has a part to play. Simeon Moore, an ex-Birmingham gang member of the famous Johnson Crew gang, and police chief Cressida Dick have both highlighted the importance social media can have leading up to fatal events. Labhart, (2019) drew on Simeon Moore’s opinion that “before, things could take a few days or even weeks to happen, now social media helps it [knife crime] spread, it facilitates it.” Whilst Cressida shares the opinion, that social media “revs’ people up” (Bbc.co.uk, 2019). To reduce moral panic appropriate solutions must be identified; the government and society need to bring the issue into appropriate perspective. Strategies must include partnerships outside of government legislation and the police force for proper implementation to begin and have an effect.
Whilst the Crime Survey for England and Wales provides a clearer indication of overall trends in violent crimes - allowing for good measures of more common but less harmful offences, police recorded crime offers a better measure of more harmful but less common offences. Such offences are not well-measured by the survey because of their rather low volume. Therefore, although the Crime Survey for England and Wales is generally the most reliable indicator of crime levels as is takes on a left realist approach, discovering real experiences through victims, police recorded crime is a more valuable source for measuring such trends regards such crimes.
The responsibility for knife crime being a complex societal deep-rooted issue cannot fall solely on one agency. Therefore, the challenges within developing and delivering an initiative can be difficult and cannot be engaged and implemented through one force of authority. Multi-agency policing methodology to tackling crime is now “strongly embedded” (Berry, Briggs, Erol & van Staden, 2011) into society, thus, knife crime will not be stopped within the West Midlands unless all agencies come together as one partnership. For a long-term change we need the community, local authorities (youth offending teams), education services and the police force, to come together and prevail knife crime.
Parveen and Halliday article (2019) draws on data which revealed a rise in the number of sharp weapons being confiscated at schools and colleges in the West Midlands. The article also highlighted that in 2016 there were 77 documented occurrences of knives being taken on to school grounds, whilst in 2017, a slight decrease of 65 recorded instances. Partnerships between the police and schools/colleges remain crucial in the reformation of the generation of today’s children, thus, engaging with schools and colleges is paramount in the education and reduction of knife crime. To ensure this partnership works to the best of its ability, it is key that both stakeholders purpose a team within the school who can identify the signs of those most at risk of becoming an offender or victim to knife crime. Lamont, Macleod & Wilkin, (2011) report strategic and multi-agency preventative work benefits not only themselves, the school and the pupils but also the community in a number of ways, including; an increased capability to reach young people at risk, improved relationships and stigma around the police and young people as well as being “exposed to positive role models”. For instance, encouraging young people to stay at school, reducing truancy and eventually leading to reduced offending and the community having “less negative views of young people”.
Additionally, having schools and colleges working with local authority youth offending teams (YOTS) and the police will reflect the needs of those most at risk of knife crime; YOTS usually work closely with schools, police and the community. The Ministry of Justice, (2013) reported YOTS’ key aim is the prevention of “offending by children and young people” as well as constantly developing different approaches to tackle crime. Resultantly it would benefit meeting with other agencies to ensure the ability to share data and intelligence in regards of working together to come up with the best possible outcomes. Labhart, (2019) reported, David Jamieson, the PCC for the West Midlands police, believes the answer lies in “providing more opportunities for young people in disadvantaged areas” suggesting in guidance with the community, the police, schools and local authorities need to think about creating more “divisionary schemes and activities” to deter young people from violence.
A multi-agency approach acts as a response to national policy initiatives with the potential to reduce the prevalence of crimes, allowing space for specifics; for example, tackling specific crimes - and helps with the identification of “at risk” children and young people through providing shared information of the services.
South Yorkshire police have implemented a knife crime strategy in order to tackle the problem particularly across Sheffield. Its initiative sets out to work with the public sector and takes on a social crime prevention and community-orientated policing approach; the strategy bases off the identification of “at risk” groups and individuals. Evidently, some are more apparent to commit crimes than others based on socio-economic disadvantages. This initiative implements targeted interventions such as working with schools to apply school-based interventions. Due to resources and funding, the initiative tackles areas in which knife crime is prevalent, facing schools in those “problem areas” by reducing the circumstances that create crime, an approach supported by left realist criminologists. Social crime prevention focuses on causations of crime, mostly economic and social issues within society. This prevention strategy requires community orientated policing, involving the engagement of the offenders and victims in numerous community-based actions, consistently bringing together children, young people and some marginalised groups within the community. This builds community-based relations, such as, connections between schools, community centres etc. However, Labhart (2019) reported David Jamieson, admitted funding and the closure of social clubs is a reason for increased crime as “there’s nothing for these kids to do”; suggesting the answer to the knife crime problem lies in offering more opportunities for young people in disadvantaged areas. Therefore, social crime prevention could centre on making those who are at risk of offending feel more reckon within their community; an example of this is creating more youth social clubs.
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Although there are many benefits of South Yorkshire’s policing strategy, a focus of their initiative is ‘stop and search’. The use of stop and search within the UK is fundamentally flawed and has had media attention towards the dispute of it being abused by police officers towards members of the public, majority being of ethnic minorities. In practice, stop and search essentially comes down to instinct rather than evidence led. Smith (2016) reported Diane Abbott voicing her concern that “There are clear signs that some communities are being disproportionately targeted,”.
Data revealed those who identify as part of the BME community are three times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to their white counterparts. However, due to the rise of knife crime, both Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott have voiced support for resurrecting the policy- if it’s evidence-based or used effectively. Evidence implies that increased stop and search has insignificant impact on the levels of violent crime. On the contrary, the discriminatory use of stop and search has been the turning point in the relationship between the police and ethnic minority communities from disadvantaged areas. Thus, damaging the relationship of the community the initiative intends to serve. Another critique of the initiative is the focalisation on it being predominantly led by the police force rather than a divided responsibility rate between all stakeholders, meaning this could lead to a lack of communication between well thought out partnerships.
Defining success and effectiveness within police strategies depends upon many factors: evidence-based policing, offending and reoffending rates and the abilities of the partnerships to work together as a collective. To assess the effectiveness of a police initiative is to assess whether the community it is aimed towards has seen change since the implementation. Since the release of Sheffield’s initiative; “Operation Fortify” there has been a 12% decrease in the number of knife crimes within South Yorkshire. Suggesting, since the introduction of the initiative, it has been successful in its aims and objectives of reducing knife crime within the city particularly with young males, implying stakeholders have been working together as a collaborative.
The ‘selling’ point of this initiative towards the public will focus on the need to tackle knife crime within the younger generation. Research suggests that
Since 2008, the police have used social media to engage with the public. Webster (2013) highlights that social media allows for development of relationships with communities, as well as demonstrating the 'human' side of policing, essentially displaying “legitimacy, enhancing trust and confidence of the public by the communities” (Fernandez et al., 2017). Social media allows for effective communication between the police and the public; since 2018, 90% of the adult population are regular internet users. Ofcom (2019) reported that on average, 70% of adults between the ages of 25-75 have their own social media profiles, whilst 94% of 16-24-year olds have their own social media profiles. This suggests that for most of the public, news is quickly accessible to them through their electronic devices rather than the more ‘traditional’ buying a newspaper to receive information.
The effectiveness of the police using social media to communicate with the public has been a topic of controversy. However, the Police Foundation, (2014) essentialise on the fact that they can provide safety advice, raise awareness on potential criminal activity, and support public to minimise risk as well as being able to communicate information during serious occurrences and to prevent any 'rumours’ from circulating, leading to misinformation. Accenture (2012), draws on how the public feel towards social media being used to engage with the public- “47% of respondents believe social media can be used to prevent crime.” Using a wide range of networks such as social media ensures the start and involvement of a ‘conversation’ to start between the public and the police.
Knife crime in Birmingham is a growing problem, particularly within BME communities. Decreased funding and social media are partially to blame but cannot be found solely responsible. A multi-agency approach to prevent knife crime similar to that of South Yorkshire police can protect those vulnerable to knife crime, alongside the use of social media by the police to counteract the damage the quick spreading of misinformation can cause.
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- Webster, R. (2013) Social media to show the human side of policing. Retrieved from: http://www.russellwebster.com/social-media-to-show-the-human-side-of-policing
- LOOK AT: https://www.farrer.co.uk/news-and-insights/protecting-children-from-knife-crime/#
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