30 April 2019

Tackling knife crime

What are the risk factors associated with carrying knives and what strategies can be used to tackle knife crime?

Police figures have indicated a rise in knife crime across England and Wales in recent years. It forms part of a broader picture of increasing numbers of violence offences being recorded by the police including homicide.

In the year ending March 2018 there were 285 homicides recorded using a knife or sharp instrument. London and other urban areas see a disproportionately high amount of knife crime. Recent years have seen the introduction of new national approaches to tackling high harm crime, notably the Serious Violence Strategy published by the Home Office in April 2018, and the London Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) Knife Crime Strategy from 2017.

College knife crime evidence briefing

The College of Policing developed a short briefing to provide police and crime reduction partners with a summary of the evidence on factors associated with carrying knives, as well as strategies and interventions to tackle knife crime. The briefing may usefully inform decisions about approaches to tackling knife crime.

The evidence presented has been identified through a non-exhaustive search of the literature, taking reliable sources, government strategy documents and research reports as a base, and consulting with subject matter experts to ensure the summary presents a rounded picture. It is not intended to review all of the available research evidence nor present a formal assessment of its quality.  More evaluation is needed to fully understand the impact of a number of specific knife crime interventions such as knife amnesties and educational programmes. 

Main findings

A number of factors have been identified that potentially increase the likelihood that someone will commit a violent crime and/or carry weapons. These include gender, with males more likely to commit serious violence and carry weapons than females; age, as self-reported weapon carrying peaks around the age of fifteen; adverse childhood experiences including abuse and neglect, parental criminality and/or substance abuse; and low educational attainment or school exclusion. Recent analysis of data collected in the UK indicates that there is no statistically significant relationship between ethnicity and weapon carrying.

Given the range of motivations for and factors associated with an individual's involvement in knife crime, tailored approaches are most likely to be effective in tackling specific problems. Approaches such as problem-oriented policing, focused deterrence strategies which target high risk offenders, and early preventative work aimed at supporting potentially 'at-risk' individuals, are most likely to be effective.

Evidence suggests the most effective methods tend to be multi-agency and multi-faceted, requiring collaboration from different fields and working with partners in "diagnosing the problem, analysing underlying causes, examining what works and developing solutions."

The most successful approaches to reducing violence include well-implemented problem-solving and focussed deterrence strategies, which aim to address the root causes of violence. Public health approaches, involving multiple agencies to develop a range of interventions focusing on preventing the onset and progression of violence, as well as law enforcement activity directed at offenders have been shown to have a positive impact. 

Photograph courtesy of Cleveland Police