'A growing number of young people are carrying knives'
PUBLISHED: 07:01 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:26 25 March 2019
The number of knife offences recorded in Hertfordshire have more than doubled in the last four years and, in a 12-month period through to September 2018, almost one third were committed by children - the highest percentage in the country.
According to the Office for National Statistics, Hertfordshire Constabulary investigated 511 offences involving a knife or sharp weapon between April 2017 and March 2018 – a 123 per cent increase since 2013-2014, when there were 229 cases.
But there were 43 knife offences per 100,000 people in Hertfordshire between April 2017 and March 2018, lower than the national average of 69 per 100,000.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, said emergency funding was needed to tackle rising knife crime nationally.
Herts police announced earlier this month that the police and crime commissioner David Lloyd had approved a £140,000 county-wide initiative to tackle knife and serious violent crime, with the aim of safeguarding children and young adults who are at risk of being drawn into gang activity.
This figure is being matched by Herts County Council, totalling £280,000 in additional funding.
Mr Lloyd said: “Hertfordshire remains a low-crime area with much less knife and serious crime than many part of the country. But we are not immune from national trends and in Hertfordshire we have criminals travelling in from London and across county lines.
“Understandably this is a key public concern that I share, and I am committed to making a real difference and combating it.
“I have agreed this substantial funding as we need to prevent the vulnerable children and young people being forced into crime.
“The grant will enable crime panels to be set up across the county involving police, schools, councils and children services to identify those at risk.
“Last year, I funded a successful pilot of this scheme in Broxbourne and now is the right time to expand their work out across Hertfordshire.”
The latest Ministry of Justice data shows Herts police took action against 94 children in the 12 months ending September 2018 – 91 were convicted or cautioned for carrying a sharp object, while three used a blade to threaten someone.
Of those, 13 had at least one previous knife crime conviction and two children had three or more previous offences.
Including adults, Hertfordshire police took action against 293 people in the 12 months to September 2018, 48 more than three years earlier. That means 32 per cent of knife offences in Herts were committed by children, the highest rate in England and Wales.
The figure has increased since 2014-15, when 58 children were convicted or cautioned for knife crimes. There were 35 knife criminals aged between 10 and 15 in 2017-18, while 59 were 16 or 17.
Sajda Mughal, chief executive of charity the JAN Trust, which empowers women in a bid to promote integration and prevent extremism and hate crime, said work with families is vital to make them aware of the problem and help them support their children.
She said: “A growing number of young people are carrying knives, are members of gangs and have the mindset that they have no choice but to carry a knife.
“We need to prioritise increased funding for vital support services and youth projects to address the kind of alienation and exclusion that many young people face.
“It is also crucial to fund and support work with families, especially mothers, to make them aware of this issue and how they can support their young people.”
Across England and Wales, there were more than 4,000 children convicted or cautioned for knife offences in the 12 months to September 2018 — an increase of 31 per cent over the last three years. In Hertfordshire, 71 per cent of the children were white.
Ms Mughal added: “There needs to be an increase in more specialised and proficient policing, as opposed to the distrust formed between communities from racial profiling.”
In response to the figures, Inspector Andrew Palfreyman from the force’s crime reduction and community safety unit says recording and changing definitions are partially responsible for an increase in knife crime in the county.
He told the Comet: “Knife-related incidences have been increasing across the country over the past three or four years. This is partly due to better recording of crime and changes to the definitions by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and fire & rescue services of what constitutes knife crime.
“Any incident where the presence of a knife has been mentioned or implied is now recorded as a knife-related incident, even if no evidence of a weapon is found.
“New recording rules also means that we record a separate crime for each victim, where previously when a crime had several victims, this would have been recorded as a single crime.
“Hertfordshire Constabulary has also invested in making it easier to report crime online and improved victim support services, which may have had a positive impact on the number of crimes reported.
“The majority of recorded knife-related crimes in Hertfordshire are non-violent and do not result in injuries. In response to the increase in knife crime, we have developed a ‘serious violence strategy’ – which is a long-term plan involving a comprehensive approach to serious violent crime in the county.
“This has been developed in partnership with local and county councils, schools, government, neighbouring forces, charities and other agencies.
“We are aware that there has been a significant increase in young people being involved in knife-related incidents in Herts.
“There is little or no evidence to suggest that habitual knife carriers are a notable problem and that knives are more probably being carried for self-protection.
“To address this rise our police force has been running knife amnesties over the past two years and supplemented this with test purchase operations, knife arches and high visibility patrols in areas where knife crime has most often occurred. We have been utilising powers to identify individuals carrying knives and conducting out operations specifically to disrupt criminal activity linked to knife crime.
“We will be focusing on knife crime over the next three years and plan to conduct several initiatives working alongside our partners, aimed at educating young people about the dangers of knife crime and working with our neighbouring forces to ensure known offenders do not move cross border.”