IN my last year as a police officer, I was confronted twice by someone with a knife. Both times, the weapon had been taken from a kitchen drawer.
Thankfully, neither man had the stupidity to stab me and I doubt if they would have had the strength to penetrate the copy of the Yellow Pages stuffed down my police jumper for protection.
Officers were often sent to jobs on their own without proper protective equipment and just got on with it. Duty of care wasn’t something on the agenda and when it got rough you were left to get over it yourself. Counselling wasn’t on offer.
As a police officer, knives worried me more than guns. They could be carried discreetly and hidden from view and were readily available. Over the years in the force, I noticed that more and more people were carrying them. The usual excuse was that it was for protection. Those involved in the supply of drugs often were found with weapons.
It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me that knife crime is on the increase. There are areas of some cities that I wouldn’t even drive through in an armoured tank, let alone walk through. Gang crime is on the increase and with it the use of knives.
This epidemic is greater than many in government want us to know. With every headline-hitting knife murder, there are another 50 seriously injured people. The major trauma director at London’s Imperial College Healthcare Trust said that “in the last calendar year, we saw about 650 stab victims in our hospital”.
That is just one hospital. How many people are being seriously injured by knives on top of the hundreds of poor victims murdered? Knife crime has become a national emergency that has to be tackled immediately.
I think it is dishonest that senior police officers use budget cuts as an excuse for the rise in knife crime. The truth is that the police gave up patrolling the streets years ago. It is just not fashionable to have a Bobby walking the beat as a visible presence and deterrent. More worryingly, those officers who do venture outside have stopped searching people for fear of being called racist.
What the public fail to understand is that if an officer is complained about then they become very wary of it happening again. They are reluctant to stop people for fear of another complaint. I once had more detectives investigating a spurious complaint made against me by a villain than officers investigating him for selling drugs.
Since January 2012, stop and searches in London have fallen by 70 per cent while knife crime has risen to its highest level. If we want to see knife crime reduced, we have to accept that certain areas of our community will be targeted for stop and search.
This has to be backed up by tougher court sentences. Currently, a person under 16 can be caught with a knife and let off with a warning. Only 50 per cent of repeat knife offenders are ever threatened with prison.
Surely, if you are carrying a knife then you are intending to use it. A police caution will not put off a young gang member from carrying a knife when they know they may be attacked. It is only right that anyone caught with a knife should be charged, remanded and put before the courts. These people should be taken off the streets.
We cannot keep blaming poor housing, parenting, poverty and schools. These are all part of the complex problem, but what is at the core is the glorification of criminal behaviour as a legitimate way of life.
‘‘Gangsta’’ culture is broadcast on national radio with lyrics promoting drugs and guns. Social media is awash with ‘‘drill music’’ and cannabis use is rife among young people. Even in sleepy Whitby, the sweet smell of skunk often hovers over Pannet Park on a Friday night.
Drugs and violent knife crime are linked. The rise of ‘‘county lines’’ gangs proves that. Now that the war on drugs is lost, surely the only way to stop knife crime is to devalue the drugs that fuel it? Legalisation of cannabis could be a solution and should be considered. Like Prohibition in the 1930s, taking away the illegality of a substance reduces the crime associated with it.
The war against knives can be won if we are prepared to take radical action, put coppers back on the street and allow them to do their jobs without the shackles and scrutiny of snowflakes who are more concerned with the yobs than the victims.
GP Taylor is a writer, broadcaster and former police officer. He lives in Whitby.