Knife Crime Will Only Get Worse Until We Stop Cutting Police Budgets
Knife crime is tearing apart communities in the UK, leaving parents without children and young people without futures.
The people of Manchester have been left horrified by the death of 17-year-old Youssef Makki, a promising Manchester Grammar School student who was fatally stabbed in the chest on Saturday, March 2.
Sadly, this senseless waste of a life barely begun, is far from a rarity. In 2018, 37 children and teenagers were murdered with knives. We are only in March, and yet 2019 has already seen a total of ten children and teenagers killed.
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Against this tragic backdrop, we are witnessing a significant point of tension between Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and Prime Minister Theresa May, on how to deal with rising knife crime.
When May herself was Home Secretary – from May 2010 to June 2016 – she slashed police budgets by 18 per cent and depleted the number of officers, despite being advised against this. May had argued at the time how falling crime rates since the mid-nineties meant a large police force was no longer needed.
Since 2010, the force has been reduced by well over 21,000 members, much to the ongoing concern of senior officers. Over 2,000 of these roles were stripped from the West Midlands Police.
May’s relationship with the force was fractious during her years as Home Secretary, who’d urged her not to dismiss their legitimate fears as ‘scaremongering’, and is still on shaky turf. Some senior officers feel she failed to listen to their warnings, and is still continuing to ignore the elephant in the room.
Without adequate funding and numbers, the impact of a pared back police force has proven harrowing to say the least.
An overwhelming 42 out of the 44 police forces in the UK have reported a rise in knife crime since 2011, exactly one year before May was heckled at the annual Police Federation Conference over cuts.
Since 2013, there’s been a staggering 93 per cent rise in the number of children being stabbed, according to statistics provided by the Labour Party, with more than 1,000 teenagers admitted to A&E with stab wounds in 2018.
According to a report from The Office for National Statistics (ONS), police in the UK recorded 41,884 knife offences in the year leading up to June 2018. This a terrifying number to behold, marking the highest ever number seen in comparable records.
During the period between July 2017 and June 2018, there were 4,327 incidents involving knives in the West Midlands, including 35 murders and 59 attempted murders. The West Midlands has also seen a more profound increase in knife crime than in any other part of the UK aside from the capital.
National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter, has given the following statement:
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; until the government can come up with an effective strategy to combat this epidemic the death toll will keep on rising.
Policing has been stripped to the bone and the consequences are clear for all to see. This country is in the grip of a terrifying spiral of violent crime and both the police service and NHS are struggling to cope.
What makes this more sickening is it was predicted. This is the true cost of austerity that we warned of but were ridiculed for doing so. Those who said we were scaremongering or crying wolf should hang their head in shame.
How many more children will have to die before the government takes action? We need less talk and more action – we need more boots on the ground.
Politicians, who have in their power to make effective and meaningful change choose to do nothing of note. This issue is bigger than party politics or fiscal policy and it has to take precedent.
The government has a violent crime strategy and are giving police more powers, but unfortunately it seems to forget we don’t have enough officers to use those powers.
We need better youth engagement, many more police officers to prevent crime but also to respond and deal with it – we need a justice system that delivers justice.
Despite the disturbing pattern noted by various violent crime experts, May has controversially said there is ‘no direct correlation’ between cuts to the police force and the rise in knife crime, making the following statement in parliament:
What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice.
But what also matters is, as a government, that we look at the issues which underpin, that underlie, this use of knives and that we act on those.
May’s divisive view has been firmly disputed by Met Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, who’s stated there’s ‘obviously’ a link.
Speaking on LBC radio, Dick said:
If you went back in history, you would see examples of when police officer numbers have gone down and crime has not necessarily risen at the same rate and in the same way.
But I think that what we all agree on is that in the last few years police officer numbers have gone down a lot, there’s been a lot of other cuts in public services, there has been more demand for policing and therefore there must be something and I have consistently said that.
Dick’s comments have been echoed by other senior crime experts, including chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton, former Met commissioner Lord Stevens, and Chief Constable of Merseyside, Andy Cooke.
Current Home Secretary Javid has shown a far different approach to his predecessor regarding communication with police, acknowledging the need to listen to the expertise of senior officers on such matters.
After meeting with chiefs from several forces at a summit yesterday (March 6), Javid spoke of the importance of ensuring police had adequate resources, adding:
We’ve got to do everything we can. I’m absolutely committed to working with the police in doing this. We have to listen to them when they talk about resources.
Prior to the summit, according to The Guardian, Javid had demanded his fellow cabinet members sanction an emergency cash injection of nearly £1 billion for the police, resulting in a reported clash with May.
The request was denied by Chancellor Philip Hammond, who – while appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme – has since rather patronizingly suggested officers should ‘move resources’ from lower priority areas to deal with the issue of violent crime.
Of course, improving police capacity will not automatically eliminate the threat of knife crime, and there are many other wider, more complicated factors to consider.
Consideration must also be given to significant factors such as socio-economic deprivation, and lack of educational attainment, areas of life which have also been sorely affected by government cuts.
As rapper and activist Akala so perfectly put it during a Channel 4 News interview, there needs to be a more ‘nuanced and human’ approach to addressing knife crime.
During the interview, Akala stated:
Having a police officer isn’t going to undermine the reason why some young people feel so desperate or disenfranchised or enraged that they are killing other young people.
So you still need to get to the root causes of the reason, and the root causes are not going to be undermined simply by more police.
You need to work with poverty, you need to work with domestic abuse, you need to work with different sociological and psychological factors.
The names and lives of knife crime victims must not be left to become mere statistics, serving only for circular TV debates.
Action needs to be taken before more blood is spilled on British streets, action which the Prime Minister should now begin to take.
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Channel 4 News/YouTube
Office for National Statistics (ONS)