Knife Crime Hits 10 Year High As Government Announces It Will Begin To Reinvest In Policing After Decade Of Austerity – 30 January 2020
By John Smith Independent Candidate For Police And Crime Commissiomer For Avon And Somerset
There have been 2 major police and crime news stories in the last week. There was a welcome announcement from the Government on 22 January that it will begin from next April to reverse the significant reductions in Government investment in policing since 2010 with a one year 10% increase in the Home Office grant to police forces. This is the first significant increase in Government police funding in a decade after years of cuts and will allow the recruitment of an additional 6,000 officers nationally – good news and a start to replacing the 20,000 officers lost nationally since 2010.
A day later on 23 January, figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed a 7% rise in offences in England and Wales involving knives or sharp instruments in the year ending September 2019 to 44,771 offences, the highest on record. Labour and Conservative politicians have been quick either to blame the cuts for the rise in knife crime – or to suggest that any knife crime rise is due to previous local failings which are now effectively fixed thanks to the Government’s funding announcement – depending on their party. What are the facts on knife crime in Avon and Somerset?
In the week before Christmas last year a 14-year-old boy was found guilty of manslaughter after stabbing a 39-year-old man in central Bristol in daylight last June in an argument over a bike – he is due to be sentenced on 3 February. In the same week, another 14-year-old was charged with murder after the death of a 17-year-old in Bedminster. There have been other high profile cases but the number of incidents in the run up to Christmas and the relative youth of the individuals raised the profile of knife crime locally and highlighted the complexity of the issues.
The Chief Constable Andy Marsh wrote an article on 19 December in the Daily Telegraph and said: “Normalisation of serious violence, particularly amongst our young people is hugely concerning for communities….” He also warned that the police alone could not tackle the scourge of knife crime and there needed to be a more holistic approach but he was hopeful for the future due to the joined-up work being led by PCC Sue Mountstevens on focusing and joining up communities and partners to address the problem.
The Police and Crime Commissioner commissioned a report by the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights team last year to understand the position on serious violence and knife crime in Avon and Somerset and to inform her response – it makes interesting reading and is published on the PCC’s website – http://bit.ly/2GxPyf2 Key findings include:
- A 60% increase in knife offences in the last 3 years in Avon and Somerset – knife possession offences have nearly doubled;
- A third of serious violence and a fifth of homicides are domestic related;
- More than 30% of serious violence offences were committed by an offender who had been a victim of crime in the last 3 years;
- In 40% of violent knife offences the offender had previously been a victim of crime and 25% of offenders had been registered previously as missing persons;
- Serious youth violence has increased by 45% in the last 3 years and knife possession is nearly 3 times more likely in the 10-19 age group.
What is underlying these figures? Whilst there have not been above inflation Government grants for many years, the PCC did significantly increase police local council tax funding last year in order to fund a dedicated proactive team of a hundred police officers focused on drugs, burglary and knife crime. Since the formation of Operation Remedy last April, drugs related arrests are up 7%, and there’s been a 9% reduction in burglaries and a 45% increase in the recording of knife possession offences as officers are able to be more proactive. The low point in police officer numbers in Avon and Somerset was in 2018 when the numbers reached 2550 – nearly 700 below the 2010 levels. Given the positive impact that the investment from local people in Operation Remedy has had recently it is beyond doubt that the 20% reduction in police officer numbers, the additional pressures on a reduced police workforce and the inability to be proactive as a result has had a significant impact on the worsening knife crime situation.
Of course, it is not just the police who have had significant cuts to manage. The Behavioural Insights Report refers to the widening gap between demand for and provision of public health, domestic abuse and mental health services. The significant reduction in youth services is also flagged as a key barrier.
In addition, the Courts, Crown Prosecution Service and Prison Service have had to manage more significant budget reductions than the police – and Probation has had reduced funding as well as a failed partial privatisation which the Government has now agreed to reverse. These challenges have also undoubtedly had an adverse impact and contributed significantly to the major increase in knife crime.
As the Chief Constable said, these issues are too complicated for the police alone to address successfully. Following the provision of a short-term Government grant, which the PCC and Chief Constable pushed to ensure included Avon and Somerset, the PCC has set up violence reduction units in each of the 5 top tier local authority areas. These units are working with local authorities, education, health and the voluntary sector to assess those at risk of committing (and being victims of) violent offences.
Crucially the units are also working with local people – the Bristol Violence Reduction Unit has appointed Desmond Brown, a local community leader and activist, as the Community Coordinator for the team in East Bristol and Ben Carpenter in the same role in South Bristol – both of them have worked in their communities for many years and led local community youth focused organisations. The Somerset VRU is working with Adam Fouracre who founded the charity Stand Against Violence after his brother Lloyd was killed in a violent attack in 2005 when Lloyd was just 17. This partnership between local communities, the voluntary sector and public sector organisations is crucial to addressing these complex issues.
I was the Chief Executive of the PCC’s team until earlier this year and worked with others to set up the Violence Reduction Units – I am standing as an Independent Candidate in the PCC elections in May. If elected, I would carry out the following steps to address these issues:
- Work with the Chief Constable to ensure that the additional officers are funded by Central Government and are brought in as quickly as possible and deployed in the right areas to address the issues that matter to local people – it will take at least another 3 years for the extra officers recruited next year to complete their training and many more years before the number of fully trained officers gets even close to 2010 levels – but we will bring them in as soon as possible. Already Avon and Somerset have brought in additional Community Support Officers to specifically link with each school in the area;
- Work with local health and local authority partners to ensure that data is shared and that appropriate support and intervention services are put in place – with an especial focus on mental health services for young people and support for victims of sexual and domestic abuse – where they exist at all the waiting times for these services are just too long at the moment;
- A recent national report – the Timpson Review of school exclusions – highlighted the link between school exclusions and youth violence and victimisation – the initial work of the Violence Reduction Units suggest that this is a key issue and I will work with local leaders to address this;
- Lobby for proper long term funding of the Violence Reduction Units and continue the local leadership of the Violence Reduction Units working in partnership with local authorities, health, education and crucially with local communities and charities. Such models – given enough time – have been successful in areas like South Wales and Glasgow at addressing the underlying causes of youth violence and that is the only way to reverse the increases in knife crime and improve the lives of our young people locally.
See more details about my priorities on my website – https://www.johnsmith4pcc.com/2-strong-responsive-inclusive-visible-and-accountable-local-policing/