By Ifeanyi Ogbonna
Knife Crime. A plague that has swept across the UK and claimed thousands of lives and ruined countless families. Whilst this is a problem that affects many parts of the country, Nottingham is a hotspot for this type of crime. According to statistics, Nottinghamshire experiences a high rate of knife crime offences than both the national average and the average in core cities. In 2018, there was an increase by nearly 11% in this type of offence.
In London, the problem is much worse which is evident as we are constantly told about this problem. In 2019/20, for example, there were over 15,900 knife offences, which was an increase of over 6,000 when compared to 2015/16. Whilst it would not make sense to compare the problem London faces with that of Nottingham, because of the drastic difference in volume, there are still similarities in who is affected and who commits these crimes.
The BAME community are disproportionately involved with these types of offences. If we focus on the black community, in Nottingham they make up 7.26% of the population, however they are responsible for 39% of knife crime. In comparing this to London, 53% of possession of a knife suspects were black despite making up only 13% of the population. The numbers are similar for other ethnic minority communities.
“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime” (Aristotle).
This quotation does not only encompass the ethnic disparities when it comes to knife crime, but it explains the root cause of this in general. Impoverished communities in the UK’s major cities including London and Nottingham are disproportionately populated by BAME. This reason, paired with systemic issues, are the main cause for the ethnic differences, but in addressing the cause for knife crime in general there is one overarching issue I have identified: social deprivation/a lack of intervention.
Over the past many years, due to a decline in funding there has been a lessening in the amount of youth clubs and similar, which help reduce crime. These types of extra-curricular organisations are a place where young people and adults can interact, and it gives an opportunity to spot early warning signs and stop them in their tracks. London itself is a good example of this: The City of Westminster experienced a 91% cut in funding for youth services, and simultaneously there was a 47% rise in knife crime offences for the Metropolitan Police. The link between investing in our youth and lessening of knife crime is undeniable, and therefore it seems like a solution to tackling this epidemic is funding into youth centres and organisations like this.
This is very simple to say, but are there any countries or cities where they have solved their knife epidemic? Indeed, in Scotland they have managed to half the number of violent murders. In 2004/05 there were 137 homicides, and by 2016/17 this had more than halved to 62. So how did they achieve this, and how can we mirror this in various other parts of the UK that are still tackling large amounts of knife crime.
Scotland implemented a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) which was solely set up to tackle knife crime. This is the first move that needs to be made: specialist units need to be set up in cities like London and Nottingham where knife crime is particularly a big problem.
The VRU focused on a few different areas: emphasising opportunity, engaging in the education system, targeting gang hotspots and other things.
One of the VRU’s main objectives is to offer young people an alternative path, and this is how they emphasise opportunity. They run different schemes that show them that violence and being in a gang is not the only life they can have. For example, in 2010 they ran an adventure and leadership training scheme with former gang members. Another example is in 2016, Street & Arrow in Glasgow’s West End set up a modern street food truck, where they hire former offenders for 12 months: the former offenders are paired with a mentor who helps them develop employment skills.
Engaging in education is an obvious point. The VRU set up mentoring projects in schools to not only teach about knife crime, but also to encourage children’s online safety. Workshops like this make young people think about their behaviour towards other people and how to challenge those who have unacceptable behaviour.
Combining these two with approaching the problem head on was the reason for the great effectiveness of the VRU. Officers took steps to visit gang members, target hotspots and monitor their activity. They took a no-nonsense approach and made clear statements to young people that they would face severe consequences for their actions. If steps like these were taken across other parts of the UK that are affected by the knife crime epidemic, such as Nottingham or London, the rate for this type of offence would undoubtedly decrease.