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Multiple initiatives have been introduced in order to assist with ameliorating the UK knife crime problem. The Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) was introduced by the Home Office as a time limited initiative directed at reducing knife carrying, knife related homicide and serious stabbings among the 13-19 year age group in England and Wales.
Launched on the 5th June 2008, phase one was launched which ran until March 2009. Phase two was launched in spring 2009 with a broader remit, targeting violence in those aged 13-24.
Why was it launched?
At the time of its inception, there were a number of high profile knife-related murders adopting prime place in the UK media. Public concerns were therefore rising and a number of publications were released with alarming details as to the causes and prevalence of knife crime in the UK (e.g. Home Affairs Commitee, 2009; Silvestri et al, 2009; Aynsley-Green, 2009). The Home Office was under pressure from the public and other government departments alike to mount a response to the revelations and in doing so rolled out the TKAP. It was delivered in partnership with other government agencies and departments, including the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Department of Health (DoH), Youth Justice Board (YJB), Department of Children Schools and Families (DCSF) and Association of Chief of Police Officers (ACPO).
Initial implementation occurred in ten areas with especially high rates of stabbing who expressed a willingness to partake. These were known as TKAP Tier One police force areas. The areas spanned many parts of England and Wales. There was no representation from Scotland.
In the majority of areas, the TKAP worked synergistically with existing initiatives already established to target knife crime in the teenage population. Interventions included:
Police forces in TKAP areas were given 1,150 further search arches and wands in addition to those already present, in order to detect and identify offensive weapons.
Gang targeting occurred
After school patrolling. This included a 3.4 million pound cash injection to fund initiatives such as the Safer Schools Partnership and Operation Stay Safe, which assisted in returning unsupervised, high-risk children home safely.
Intelligence-driven 'hot spots' (areas where knife crime was known to occur), were targeted
All police forces conducted weapons-awareness courses
Many forces produced and disseminated literature or DVDs highlighting local knife crime issues and potential dangers
Conferences, forums and focus groups were widely used to engage and involve specifically involve youth in the programme.
In addition to the interventions implemented under the specific remit of the TKAP, many areas with high knife crime rates, both under the auspices of the TKAP and not, increased efforts to decrease knife crime rates. The largest were Operations Blunt and Blunt 2. Blunt 2 ran simultaneously alongside TKAP with similar aims namely, reducing knife carrying and violent knife crime including homicide. A portion of TKAP allocated funding was used as a financial contribution to support Blunt 2 as well as other programmes.
Another important aspect of TKAP included working to improve sharing of data between health professionals and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) in the local area. Since 2009, the National Health System (NHS) Operating Framework necessitated Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to work with CDRPs to identify and share with police, anonymous A&E data in an effort to support local action on helping to reduce violent crime, especially knife crime in TKAP areas. Furthermore, Knife Possession Prevention Programmes (KPPPs) run by the YJB, was rolled out within the TKAP areas. Twelve youth offending teams were targeted within these areas and the programme followed a framework concentrating on attitudes towards knife carrying, the consequences of knife crime and, the law.
Previous Knife Crime Initiatives:
Anti knife-crime initiatives in the UK traditionally follow a 'hot spot' approach, i.e. targeting specific geographical areas and youth especially at risk.
In 2008, the Home Office launched both the 'Tackling Violence Action Plan' and 'Youth Crime Action Plan'. Measures specifically targeting weapons were implemented, including:
A three million pound anti-knife campaign and establishment of workshops on the dangers of carrying and using weapons.
Police provision of portable knife arches and search wands, with a particular focus on ten high crime 'hot spot' areas.
Any person found using a knife would be expected to receive a custodial sentence.
Anyone aged 16 or over found carrying a knife should expect prosecution.
Parental involvement using intelligence to target parents of children thought to be carrying weapons, helping them to understand their responsibilities and providing confidential help for them.
Policy and Evidence
In October 2008, the UK government announced that, in excess of 2200 knives had been captured following targeted stop and search campaigns. Little evidence exists as to the impact of knife seizures on knife use. Home Office sponsored research cast aspersions as to the effectiveness of these operations in decreasing knife violence and concluded that the application of police initiatives alone are not likely to have a significant impact on knife carrying (Brookman et al 2003).
Knife amnesties are good at raising awareness, however, there is no available evidence indicating successful impact on reducing crime or changing behaviour and attitudes (Eades et al 2007).
Though increased punitive action is carried out against teenagers found carrying a knife (HM Government 2008:6), studies conducted (Lipsey and Wilson 1998; TFCPS 2005), show that a 'zero tolerance' approach to weapon possession/ punitiveness with respect to adjusting attitudes and decreasing knife crime levels is ineffective. Alarmingly, custody appears to be an unsuccessful deterrent. 2008 Ministry of Justice figures show that young people released from custody possess the highest rates for re-offending of all young offenders which go through the UK criminal justice system (MoJ 2008).
Many local initiatives (e.g. voluntary, school based etc) have not been evaluated and this would be valuable in the search for successful new strategies.
In the UK, there is surprisingly little research pertaining to young people and knife- related crimes specifically. Many policy makers view knife crime as one expression of juvenile anti-social violence or behaviour and much research has been conducted addressing strategies to target violent behaviour as a whole.
Of knife crime related research more specifically, two randomised control trials have been conducted in UK hospitals (Wales and Scotland) related to the effect of delivering motivational interventions, in the form of nurse counselling and psychosocial support, to patients including young patients ages 16 and over, who attend hospital with an alcohol-related facial injury (Smith et al 2003, Oakey et al 2008). A significant number of such injuries are caused by knives. Furthermore, this group of individuals are also known to be offenders (Smith et al 2003). Results have shown significant reduction in alcohol consumption, particularly at the 12 month follow up period when the most marked differences between control and subjects were identified.
This research highlights the importance of targeting the root causes of violent behaviour and victimisation such as alcohol abuse. Many organisations labour under the seeming misapprehension that weapon use and carrying is inextricably linked to habitual criminal behaviour and/or gang culture. In 2004, the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey revealed that 49 percent of those aged 10-25 years who had admitted carrying a knife, failed to belong to a delinquent youth group and did not have friends who were in trouble with the law (Sharpe, 2006).