23 October 2015

Less stop and search does not mean more knife crime

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StopWatch challenges the idea that the declining stop and search rates are directly responsible for fluctuations of knife crime

Knife crime in London has increased according to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, Britain's most senior police officer, who blames recent reductions in stop and search for this spike. However, as the infographic shows, the Metropolitan Police's own data demonstrates that less stop and search does not mean more knife crime. Stop and search has fallen sharply since the summer of 2011, when police initiated encounters were identified as a contributory factor to the August riots. Knife crime incidents recorded by the police have fallen over the same period. There were clear and marked reductions in recorded knife crime until the beginning of 2013, which have subsequently levelled off. Although there has been some random fluctuation the general trend has been stable over the last two or three years. It may look like recorded knife crime has increased in 2015, but the monthly totals have actually remained within the expected range based on figures for the previous two years. In July and August 2015 the number of stop-searches and the number of recorded knife-crime incidents remained well below the levels that were evident in 2011.  

If it is the case that stop and search is essential to tackling knife crime, we might reasonably expect to see a large number of searches for knives. In fact, only 2 per cent of recorded searches carried out by Metropolitan Police officers last year were looking for bladed instruments. The second chart breaks down the object of stop-searches carried out by the Metropolitan Police over this period. It shows that drugs account for the majority of searches, many of which are for low level cannabis offences. It is extremely rare for a search to result in the confiscation of knives.



The Home Secretary, Theresa May, was therefore right to challenge what she recently described as a “knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link”, arguing that “stop and search reform has worked, it must continue, and – if you look at the evidence – it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime.” If the past has taught us anything it is that the unjustified use of stop and search undermines trust and confidence in the police, jeopardising the legitimacy that is needed to truly prevent crime and save lives.