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How can you protect your community against knife crime?
Charities that work to tackle violent crime all agree that the best way to tackle gangs, knife and gun crime is by preventing young people from joining a gang or carrying a weapon in the first place.
So, what can you do to prevent young people that you know from joining a gang or carrying a weapon?
Answer: Start a conversation.
There are many reasons why people will get caught up in knife crime: they could be involved in criminality, they might think a knife will protect them but instead it gets used against them, or they might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is why knife crime is so difficult to address.
If you have contact with children or young people, perhaps as a parent or relative, or in a voluntary capacity as a youth club or community leader, it’s good to get them talking about weapons and the associated risks, in order to bust some common myths and improve their understanding of the seriousness of the problem.
Research shows that plenty of young people believe that carrying a knife will help them to protect themselves – but in reality, many young people end up wounded or worse, by their own knives after getting into fights.
Many young people also think that if you stab someone in a certain place – like the bum – that won’t cause serious damage. This also is wrong.
The Ben Kinsella Trust – set up by the family of the 16-year-old stabbed to death in Islington, north London in 2008 – has published an excellent guide to help adults discuss knife crime with children and young people. Written by a police officer, PC Ian Scanlon, this guide provides key facts about knife crime that you should share with young people as part of the conversation, and answers to many of the questions that young people are likely to ask. There’s also advice for young people themselves who might be worried about or already involved in knife crime.
Here are some key facts to use in your conversations with young people about knife crime:
It is a criminal offence to have in a public place any item that has a blade, or is sharply pointed. This includes scissors, kitchen knives and craft knives.
It is illegal for anyone under 18 to buy a knife of any sort.
It is not legal to carry a knife for self-defence.
If you are caught by police carrying a knife, even if it was for your protection or you were carrying it for someone else, you will be arrested and prosecuted.
If you use a knife, even in self-defence, you could be charged with assault with intent, or even worse.
You can go to prison even if you didn’t use the knife. Click here to find out more about the penalties for possession and use of a knife.
Police can stop and search anyone they believe is carrying a knife.
Carrying a knife significantly increases your chances of getting stabbed yourself.
If someone is injured or killed by a knife in your presence, you could be prosecuted even if you didn’t touch the knife. You could even go to prison for murder in what is called ‘joint enterprise’.
There is no ‘safe place’ to stab someone. A wound in the arm or leg can still kill someone if an artery is severed.
If a knife punctures an artery you can bleed to death within five minutes.
A criminal record for knife use or possession can stop you from being accepted into college or university, and can make it much harder to get a job. Many countries will refuse to let you in, such as the USA, Canada and Australia.
However, tradespeople such as fishermen or chefs can carry knives if they can prove they need them for their work. Some people may also be allowed to carry them for religious reasons, for example a member of the Sikh faith may carry a Kirpan. And if you are wearing a national costume which includes a ceremonial knife, such as someone in a Scottish kilt with a Skean Dhu, that would also not be illegal.
In the course of your conversation with the young person, you may become aware that they, or people they know, do carry knives. Click here to find out what to do in this case.
What should they do if they find a weapon?
If they find a knife, gun, or other weapon discarded somewhere, it’s really important not to touch it and to call the police. The weapon could be loaded and dangerous.
The law is really strict on weapons, so even if you’re just picking it up to take it to safety, you’re at risk of being arrested for ‘possession’.
What can they do if they are worried about themselves or their friends?
Young people can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 at any time if they are worried about their own safety, or if they think someone they know is carrying or using a gun or knife. The ChildLine website also has a section dedicated to gun and knife crime, with advice for children and young people on how to avoid getting caught up in it and what to do if you are. You can find this here.
What can they do if they feel threatened by violence while out and about?
The prevalence of violent attacks in city centres has prompted a number of schemes to be set up to provide ‘safe havens’ to young people at risk of violence. Many town centres now boast CitySafe Havens, usually shops or other high-street premises that offer refuge to anyone feeling fearful on the streets. If a person feels threatened for any reason, they can enter the shop or agency displaying a Safe Haven sticker, and it will immediately lock its doors and call the police.
CitySafe Havens were set up after the murder of 16-year-old Lewisham boy Jimmy Mizen in a local bakery in 2008. There are now more than 600 such Havens across London.
What should they do if they are with someone who gets stabbed?
After making sure they are not in any danger themselves, they should call 999 as soon as possible. Help the victim by applying pressure to the wound to try to stop the bleeding. Try to keep the victim conscious by talking to them and reassuring them that they will be ok.
Test what they’ve learned through a quiz
At the end of your conversation with the young person, you might want to test how much they learned about knife crime by getting them to take a quiz. It’s also a clever way to lighten the atmosphere after such a serious conversation.
Click here to see a choice of quizzes; there’s an excellent interactive video quiz from the Scottish charity No Knives Better Lives, or there’s a static Q&A version to print off – find this in the Downloads section below.
The Knife Crime Conversation leaflet
Neighbourhood Watch has produced a leaflet about how to have the conversation with young people about the dangers of knives. You can print these off and distribute them to your Neighbourhood Watch members as part of a campaign to tackle knife crime in your area. Find this in the Downloads section below.
To help you raise awareness among your community about serious violent crime and what can be done to help prevent it, we’ve compiled a range of free campaign materials that you can use to inform and educate people in your neighbourhood. These resources will help parents and other adults raise the subject with their children or other youngsters they know, to try to stop them from carrying knives or other weapons.
Leaflets that you can print off and put through people’s letterboxes, or forward to them via email.
Online materials such as campaign websites, videos, and infographics that you can forward to people by email or share on social media sites such as your Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group or Twitter feed.
A Powerpoint presentation that you can use to host a public meeting to launch a campaign.
A template campaign action plan. You don’t have to follow this to the letter, but it gives you some ideas about how to use the toolkit materials as part of a multi-week awareness and prevention campaign.
Click here to access the toolkit.