This summer’s knife amnesty, the first in over ten years has polarised opinion about its efficacy. Will it have any lasting effect on violent crime? Or is it just a knee-jerk reaction to a few tragic examples highlighted by the media? Home Office figures show that the use of knives in assaults and robberies have reduced by 26% since the last amnesty. Still, knives are the weapon of choice for assailants and robbers and were used in around a third of unlawful killings in 2004-5.
The murders of Thomas ap Rhys Pryce on his doorstep, Thomas Grant and Kiyan Prince killed attempting to stop fights and fifteen year old Alex Mulumba Kamondo have shocked a nation, but who will be the people turning up to dump their weapons in an amnesty? The last exercise in 1995 yielded 40,000 weapons. In the year after the 1993 month-long Scottish amnesty, murders were down by 26%, attempted murders down 19% and weapon possession down by 23%. So we can conclude from this exercise that it had an effect, with increased publicity brought awareness and higher priority from the police brought the realisation that the criminals were taking a risk in carrying weapons.
An amnesty, however, is not enough on its own. Local and national initiatives are required to hammer home the point that if you carry a knife you are likely to be arrested and charged or even have it turned on yourself. In Croydon, a group of actors visited 14 schools including pupil referral units performing a hard-hitting drama entitled “It’s no joke.” Pupils then talked through the consequences of carrying a knife with teachers and police officers. One local Police Inspector organised a crime prevention poster competition in conjunction with Crystal Palace Football Club. The winning design will be displayed throughout Croydon during the summer.
Education and awareness needs to be backed up. Apart from the risk of becoming the victim there must be a strong deterrent and punishment for possession. Conservatives proposed changes to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill designed to raise the sentence for possession of a knife from 2 years to 5. This was opposed by Ministers.
The News of the World printed photos of Alex Mulumba Kamondo posing with gun-carrying gang members. Life on the streets is a balance of risk. Alex and his friends felt as most 15 year old boys feel: invincible. The macho act of carrying a weapon and feeling cool outweighed the risk that they felt from getting hurt or caught.
Government must give the police the tools and support that they need to do the job that is asked of them – enabling them to arrest offenders with a commonsense minimum of bureaucracy and backing it up with a sentence that resonates with offenders.
Yes, promote the amnesty. Some of those 40,000 knives could have ended up at a crime scene. But send the message loud and clear through decisive action – carrying a knife is not a way of making you feel safer and the consequences of arrest are severe.