35 people have been fatally stabbed in London since the beginning of the year, with more than 50 fatalities in the UK as a whole in the same period. According to recent figures released by the Office of National Statistics, stabbings in London are at their highest level for 6 years, with a staggering 23% rise from the previous year. It has been widely commented that there have been more murders in London in the past 4 months than in New York, something that would have been considered inconceivable only a short time ago.
The government and the courts have been concerned about the rising use of knives in the commission of criminal offences for some time. Increased sentences for knife offences have been around since 2008 and a there is now a minimum 6 month prison sentence for those who are convicted of a knife offence for a second time.
Why then, are these deterrents not making a difference? One factor may be the reduction in the use of stop and search powers by the police. For many years the police were heavily criticised for what was perceived to be an indiscriminate use of these powers by disproportionately targeting ethnic minority groups without reasonable grounds for doing so. For instance, black people were 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
When Theresa May was Home Secretary, she openly criticised the police for their stop and search powers, so much so that the numbers of stop and search began to fall dramatically. Since her election to the role of Prime Minister, the numbers have kept on falling. For instance, people from a white background saw a 38% decrease in stop and search between 2016 and 2017.
So what powers do the police have to detain a person for purposes of a search? Generally speaking, the police are entitled to stop and search an individual if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person is carrying illegal drugs, weapons, stolen property or an object used for the commission of a crime. The police officer must give you their name, the police station they are from and the reason they want to search you. They must tell you what they expect to find.
Will increasing the use of stop and search, and perhaps controversially, targeting certain groups within society (as advocated by Trevor Phillips), lead to a decrease in the shocking statistics we have seen recently? Certainly, something needs to be done. People need to feel safe where they live. The decrease in police numbers and lack of “bobbies on the beat” contribute to the feeling that the police have abandoned the streets to the criminals. When was the last time you saw an officer patrolling your local neighbourhood? Perhaps we should look at the modelled approach in tackling violent crime that has proved so successful in both New York, closer to home, Glasgow? This may work in the short-term, but a long-term sustainable solution is needed, for which there is no simple answer.
The causes run deep. Policing, and with it stop and search, is only one part of the solution. Money must be found to tackle poverty and increase educational awareness of those who are the most impressionable, such as the young. Only when the root causes are tackled will knife crime diminish on a long-term basis.
Written By : Ben Hall & Simran Chawla