If you were a visitor from Mars watching British television you might think that every child in the country is either carrying a knife or being threatened by someone who is – on a daily basis. This is the impression that is being given as a result of recent horrific incidents in London and Manchester.
We need to steady up a bit and get a sense of proportion. So, let’s be clear. 99.9% of children and young people across the country do not have knives on them.
The vast majority of young people are not so foolish as to think it would offer them ‘protection’ or would impress any of their friends.
They do know, however, that they would run the risk of being hurt themselves if they did carry a knife and would soon find themselves in trouble with the law. That’s what all the evidence tells them.
But the constant talk of crisis will create serious anxieties for young people if it carries on.
Those of us with longer memories will remember that we have been here before. When I was young there were switchblades. Gangs used them in the United States. They appeared in films such as Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. They were known here as flick knives – the blade was in the handle and came out automatically when a button was pressed. They were associated with Teddy Boys. There were similar media frenzies.
But eventually, people pulled themselves together and took effective action.
In South Yorkshire I think we have a measured approach that is making a difference.
We have a plan. Crucial to it is the police working with the local authorities, schools and other partners.
Next year we are putting more police officers on the streets – for the first time since 2010.
We recognise the part drugs have played in much of the increased violence – so drug gangs are being identified and disrupted. Stop and search will be used, though in a proportionate way.
We are informing young people in the schools, making it clear to them that if they carry a knife there will be consequences – from the risk of being stopped by the police to the risk of being harmed.
Last year, despite some high profile cases, knife incidents in South Yorkshire fell. We need to keep that downward trend with this plan. It tackles root causes – but without frightening young people to death.