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Knife crime: messaging can backfire, warns force lead

Police knife crime campaigns can perpetuate fear and exacerbate the issue, Northamptonshire's lead has said at the launch of three months of positive action.

Superintendent Adam Ward, Northamptonshire Police’s knife crime lead, has said messaging on knife crime in the past has been counterproductive as the force launches a three month crackdown.

The campaign began Friday (1 October) evening with projections of messages such as ‘Carrying a knife makes me look cool (behind my back)’ on buildings across the county. 

Northants say other campaigns such as showcasing how many weapons have been taken off the street can give young people the perception it is more prevalent that it actually is and can make someone more likely to carry a knife for their own safety.

“Some of the messaging that can go out can actually perpetuate fear of crime, it can actually make people think differently about knives in terms of ‘I hadn't thought about that, I'm scared now, maybe I should carry a knife’.

“So this is about trying to challenge those misconceptions and make people think differently. That's the whole aim of the campaign. It looks very different to a traditional campaign that certainly Northants Police have put out in relation to knife crime.”

The locations being lit up include All Saints Church in Northampton city centre, Creative Cupcakes in Cambridge Street, Wellingborough, Cash Converters in Silver Street, Kettering, and Primark in Willow Place, Corby.

The University of Northampton will also be supporting the campaign by projecting its message onto their Power Tower during the evening.

This summer two 16-year-old boys died as a result of knife attacks in separate incidents, and others were injured.

Chief Constable Nick Adderley said: “Earlier this year I announced that knife crime is a matter of priority for Northamptonshire Police and today’s campaign launch marks the start of a drive to persuade people that there is no need to carry a knife.

“The vast majority of people don’t carry knives and are never affected by knife crime, however, the impact of incidents involving knives can be devastating and stay with people for the rest of their life."

The crackdown will consist of a mixture of enforcement activity, proactive activity, and preventative measures.

They’re working with education partners on a lesson pack that is planned to be delivered next year into every school in Northamptonshire. Students will get access to videos with people with real lived experience from their peer group speaking about how things went wrong for them after they started carrying a knife. 

The operational campaign involves officers, staff and volunteers from different departments including neighbourhood and response teams, CID, the Road Crime Team, Public Protection, Special Constabulary and Northamptonshire Emergency Services Cadets.

They will be carrying out hotspot patrols, weapons sweeps, use of the knife arch and knife amnesties. Warrants will be executed and there will also be covert tactics involving plain clothes officers.

“Having the support with the communities in the work that we're doing is absolutely fundamental,” said Supt Ward. “Without it, it won't succeed, which is why it's such a key importance of the strategy.”

“Certainly in Wellingborough we haven't had those connections in any way, shape, or form as much as we needed. However, some of the more tragic incidents recently has really shaken the community out of apathy. And now they're starting to work with us tremendously.”

The force have already increased stop and search and are doing more now than ever before, and Supt Ward said they were targeting the right people and being intelligence led.

Superintendent Adam Ward

Supt Ward said he could understand that new recruits may have concern around exercising their stop search powers in the face of media controversy around the tactic.

“Certainly in Northamptonshire, if you look at the profile of our response teams, we've just had a massive uptake because of the generations of officers are starting to retire and we're starting to recruit new people.

“When you've got people coming through at a very early age, there's a lot they need to know. And with the amount of media sensationalisation around stop search and some of the negative press that occurs around it there is always going to be that fear of it because you're a brand new police officer, you're just learning your powers. You don't have much life experience and of course, there's going to be that concern.”

He said the force culture had changed more towards a learning organisation. “When people don't know what they're doing they ask and we train them to take learning experiences from it, as opposed to a more disciplined approach, which really helps,” said Supt Ward.

Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold said enforcement has to work alongside prevention and “early intervention so that young people are given positive role models and support at an early stage, and the wider social issues have to be tackled”.

Supt Ward echoed his comments: “It's not something that you can change overnight, and certainly not something that the police can do on their own. It has to be a holistic approach involving partnerships, commercial, statutory, third party, volunteer sectors, all that kind of thing.”


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