The Office for National Statistics released the results of its Crime Survey for the year ending September 2020 in February 2021. The figures for knife or sharp instrument offences are drawn from police recorded crime rather than the Crime Survey and show that there was a 3% decrease in offences involving knives or sharp instruments compared with the previous year. Reviewing the quarterly data for the year ending September 2020 suggests that if lockdown restrictions are eased in the summer of 2021 knife crime is likely to increase.
The ONS Crime Survey summarises trends in crime in England and Wales based on responses to the Telephone-operated Crime Survey and police recorded crime. Its statistics on knife or sharp instrument offences are based on police recorded crime, which provides a better measure of higher harm but less common types of violence. The number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments has been rising since the year ending March 2014, although in recent years the increase has slowed. Overall there was a 3% decrease compared to the year ending September 2019.
The report describes the quarterly trends in more detail, giving an insight into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on knife crime. In the period between April and June 2020 there were 9,669 offences involving knives or sharp instruments recorded by the police, compared to 12,414 offences in the period between January and March 2020, a reduction of 22%. However, in the period between July and September 2020 when lockdown restrictions were relaxed 12,120 knife and sharp instrument offences were recorded – an increase of 25%.
Commentators have pointed to the ONS data as a sign that when lockdown restrictions are eased this summer there will be a surge in knife crime, with young people being the most negatively impacted. This is certainly a worrying likelihood, but we should interpret the data with some caution. The number of knife and sharp instrument offences in quarters 1, 2 and 3 of 2020 were 12,414, 9,669 and 12,120 respectively. This clearly shows the impact of lockdown in reducing offending, but appears to show a return to the status quo, rather than an increase over and above that due to, for example, ‘pent up’ violence which may have been expected.
It is also important to note that quarterly data for 2019 is not available for comparison. Youth justice practitioners will be aware, even if only anecdotally, that violent offending generally tends to increase during the summer months, with lighter evenings, warmer weather and long breaks from school and college all contributing . It is therefore likely that analysing the quarterly data would also show an increase in knife and sharp object offences in the third quarter of 2019. The increase in 2020 over and above the seasonal effect is therefore unclear.
The other concerning point made clear in the statistics is the fact that even extremely strict lockdown measures only reduced rates of offending with knives and sharp instruments by 22%. This is a clear a sign that a more nuanced understanding of the circumstances and motivations of the people, particularly young people, involved in this type of offending is required in order bring about a consistent reduction in knife crime. It is clear that draconian and/or situational approaches have both a limited and transient impact on reducing offending of this nature.
Written by Vivien Cochrane, Senior Associate, Kingsley Napley LLP