The College of Policing on ‘knife crime’: a turn for the better?

Roger Grimshaw
Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The College of Policing has issued a very interesting briefing on knife crime.

Mentioning its own published research, which forms the basis for the Centre’s recent briefing, it points out how stop and search has been found to produce very little effect on violent crime rates.

The authors also cite research showing how custodial sanctions upon young people can increase repeat involvement in violence. In contrast, it states:

Public health approaches, involving multiple agencies to develop a range of interventions,  including prevention work for at-risk groups, as well as law enforcement activity directed at offenders, have been shown to have a positive impact.

Readers of the briefing may wish to deepen their awareness of the issues by looking at our latest knife crime analysis which raised critical questions about the slow progress of public health strategies on violence, and about what has been done in the past under its banner. Despite the College’s positive comments on ‘focused deterrence’ or ‘pulling levers’ the briefing admits the approach has been ineffectively applied in London. Another outstanding question is about leadership: who in practice leads ‘public health’ violence reduction? Is it public health officials, or will it in practice fall, by usual default, to criminal justice agencies - typically the police?

Like ours, the College’s messages stand in stark contrast to the recent claim of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, that substantially increased stop and search has helped reduce homicide and knife crime in London.

Indeed, the College of Policing has succinctly qualified, and in some cases undermined, a number of common assumptions about effective policing and sentencing. It’s gratifying to note its acknowledgement of the Centre’s reports a decade ago though it remains disappointing that the implications had not been more widely grasped sooner. It’s impossible to speculate with any certainty, but would so many families have been affected by recent violence if the lessons of investigations by past researchers, including the Centre had been thoroughly applied in the years since? Here experts familiar with the progress of policy in Scotland have alluded to the way in which academic research has become integral to the development of initiatives in that country; they too have been quick to identify the contradiction between the College of Policing’s findings and the pronouncements of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The equable and moderate tone of the College’s briefing belies the extent to which its messages support justified criticisms of police action and acknowledge, albeit indirectly, the unnecessary suffering of people subject to heavy-handed police tactics. By implication it also challenges government to put its money where its proverbial mouth might be located, and to come forward with consistent funding for public health-led violence reduction programmes. If it is any small consolation, communities seeking answers to the urgent problems in their midst can at least know that some more realistic solutions have at last been endorsed by the major body responsible for informing police policy.

Dr Roger Grimshaw is Research Director at the Centre