The effectiveness of how constabularies deal with violent crime, particularly knife crime, has become a controversial subject in recent years – public ideas on how such issues should be tackled have evolved over time. Traditional principles of violent crime prevention were to apprehend law-breakers and hold them accountable for the crimes they had committed (Wilson and McLaren, 1977). Methods such as preventative control and rapid response, were useful in this approach, however, as the limits of these methods began to become recognised, police experimented with new methods of dealing with these issues. Recently, policing has become open to broader concepts of crime prevention, becoming more interested in anticipating crime as opposed to dealing with it, post-event. Proactive and regulatory efforts have been made to deal with violent crime, such as knife crime, as opposed to strictly reactive methods. This lead to the development of Problem-Orientated Policing and Community Policing. Both of these approaches aim to tackle offending in a prescient fashion, however, have key differences.
Problem-Oriented Policing emerged in 1979, after University of Wisconsin professor, Herman Goldstein, coined the term. During this time, a broader understanding among leading criminologists had emerged that crime was more of a by-product of larger social forces and that police, in themselves, had a lower impact on the rate of crime than once believed (Hirschmi and Gottfredson, 1999. As the public idea that police were ‘crime fighters’ had less relevance in actual practise. ‘Traditional’ policing had seen that varying levels of preventative control didn’t actually reduce crime rates and that rapid response had become ill-effective, due to the lack of crimes that were reported mid-event – and therefore, did not increase the probability of arrest and follow-up investigations only lead to sparse convictions. Goldstein challenged police policy with Problem-Orientated Policing. This approach aims to identify the wider, socially-ingrained causes as to why crimes occur and frame solutions to these issues using the S.A.R.A model. Police must systematically respond to recurring issues and gather information and design approaches to prevent crime at its root cause. Goldstein stated that the problem solving approach required ‘identifying these problems in more precise terms, researching each problem, documenting the nature of the current police response, assessing its adequacy and the adequacy of existing authority and resources, engaging in a broad exploration of alternatives to present responses, weighing the merits of these alternatives, and choosing among them.’
When looking specifically at knife crime, Problem-Orientated Policing has been used in many areas of the UK. In April 2019, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, revealed plans for a ‘radical blueprint’ for dealing with knife crime by ‘bringing together “education, health, social services, housing, youth and social workers” together to help support vulnerable young people who could be at risk.’ Proposals have also been backed by the Metropolitan Police, to bring in a new legal duty for front-line education, hospital, and police force workers to report all ‘warning signs’ of knife crime among young people. Research from the College Of Policing, demonstrates that given the range of motivation for knife crime to individually occur, tailored approaches such as ‘problem-oriented policing, focused deterrence strategies which target high risk offenders, and early preventative work aimed at supporting potentially ‘at-risk’ individuals’.
Becky Clarke et al found that a succession of harms endured by young people should ‘act as a warning’ against direct, rapid and ‘knee jerk’ reactions to knife crime. Social harms can include difficult financial climates, gang violence and rising political hostility – and these can often be the undertone or root causes as to why knife crime can occur. Drawing on the work of Goldstein, many experts argue that policing simply is not enough to prevent these crimes from occurring and that preventative action would be more effective by combatting the issues head on, as opposed to just dealing with the individual crimes. The impact of ‘knee-jerk’ reactions can not only cause a further and deeper rift in the relationship between the police and the wider community, but potentially inspire a spike in the crime that is attempting to be combatted , as a retaliation against the police, or the wider institutional system that the police make up – that they believe is causing them the ‘social harms’ in the first instance. By combatting the social harm at its root cause, supporters of problem-orientated policing argue that by taking a ‘social worker’ approach to the issue, the understanding between the community and the local authorities would improve and see a diminishment of the recurring crime issue. Jackson (2016) argues that there is one ‘fundamental problem’ with only focusing on the initial crime – he argues that ‘a crime has to be committed and someone victimised’ before action is taken. He argues that problem orientated policing – rather than allowing a person to suffer the consequences of a crime against them – diminishes the threat before the crime can take place, and by doing this, life-long change can be inspired into the individual and wider community.
When discussing the effectiveness of problem orientated policing against knife crime, Operation Ceasefire serves as a key piece of evidence. Operation Ceasefire, otherwise known as the ‘Boston Gun Project’, served as a problem-orientated initiative aimed at looking at the homicide victimisation within the youth community of Boston. The city experienced a large-scale, serious crime epidemic between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Crime statistics showed that the degree of homicide in ages 24 and under increased 230% during this time. Operation Ceasefire began meeting in the autumn of 1995 – the primary elements of this operation were a direct law-enforcement based offensive into the illicit trade and trafficking of firearms, moreover the supply of these same firearms to children and the systematic generation of deterrence and demoralisation of gang culture in youths. Analysis shows that this initiative had a direct, statistical impact on the rate of violent crime in Boston – with a 63 percent decrease in youth homicides, with the mean number of monthly counts of homicides in the area nearly halved post-test. This evidence is compelling when considering problem-orientated policing as a way to combat knife crime, simply due to the sheer success of this initiative and the splinter initiatives that it inspired across the US. Despite this operation mainly focusing on the distribution of firearms, we can assume that the success and nature of this problem-orientated approach is also palpable and applicable when looking at very similar violent crimes – of which knife crime is one – as the investigation focuses mainly on the causes of violent crime, as opposed to the offensive weapon physically used to commit the crime.
However, despite the optimistic perspectives to problem orientated policing, progress in implementing this has been slow and patchy (HMIC, 2000) due to the problem of policing being mainly ‘demand led’. The need to respond to calls quickly is a key part of the way the UK policies, as the crime rates seem to increase. The need to respond quickly to certain events, often means that officers have less time, and funding to analyse and find solutions.
The concept of community policing is based on the idea that police officers and private citizens can work together to help solve community issues surrounding crime and disorder. This is a type of policing that uses collaboration between private members of the public and the traditional policing system, to help maintain law and order. Wilson (2006) describes this as a way to “the public should be seen along with the police as ‘co producers of safety and order”- in the UK, this is approached using PCSOs, or Police Community Support Officers. These are members of the public that train with the police to do frontline work in their neighbourhood to prevent anti-social behaviour. Due to the collaborative nature of community policing, this is often perceived as ‘softer policing’ (Friedman 1992) – as this can often be oversimplified to ‘more foot-patrols’. Responsibilities include ‘defusing situations where conflict exists’, ‘fostering, supporting and building rapport’ and ‘responding to incidents that require police action, providing solution to low level incidents within their authority’ and ‘containing situations until relieved by a qualified Police Constable’ (National PCSO handbook, 2019).
Community policing is often seen as an effective way of dealing with knife crime as it is argued that it improved the perceived legitimacy of policing in that area. Perceived legitimacy is described by Rawls (1971), as the degree to which the criminal justice system within a particular society is seen to be legitimate or ‘just’ by the people who live within that society’ – and this gives citizens the opportunity to gain more control over the quality of life in their community. This has the potential to improve not only the relationship between the police and the wider community, but gives the police the understanding of residents needs. Research suggests that a stronger sense of perceived legitimacy predicts greater law abiding behaviour in the area, as people feel their needs and quality of life has been improved and therefore, less likely to commit crimes in that area. Community officer practises, such as stop and search, also provide a pivotal impact in reducing the amount of knives in circulation, and is the key tactic for community officers attempting to tackle knife crime in their area. Research from the Metropolitan Police shows that of all arrests made for the use of offensive weapons, over 80% of these resulted from a stop and search in 1999 (Fitzgerald). However, in 2017, only 14% out of 100% of arrests were for offensive weapons, which could demonstrate the effectiveness of stop and search and community policing as a tactic.
However, the stop and search tactic is a highly controversial subject, as many experts believe that it is an ineffective strategy when dealing with knife crime. A report written by the College of Policing posed that there is a ‘question around how stop and search should be assessed’. It argues that given ‘reasonable suspicion’ searches are investigative, the drop in crime that results from them is more of a by-product of the investigation, rather than a main objective or goal. The same study found that ‘if knife searches had been upped by 10% that month, then crime rates would be down by 0.1% per cent lower in week two and 0.3 percent lower in month 2.’ Although this did prove the effectiveness of stop and search overall, these connections are inconsistent and only provides limited evidence as to how stop and search implements successfully. One highly contested issue when discussing stop and searches is how it impacts community policing as a concept. Stop and search has also been criticized due to the history of systematic discrimination against people of minorities. The most totalitarian evidence of this emerged after the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, after the unlawful killing of a young black man that demonstrated racially motivated corruption in the investigating police force. This enquiry found that people of an ethnic minority were nearly nine times more likely to be investigated by a police officer than a Caucasian counterparts – this figure has nearly doubled since Lawrence’s murder in 1998. (Macpherson report). This has caused a mistrust of the police that Keeling (2018) described as something that affected ‘their willingness to cooperate with the police and, consequently, the police’s ability to carry out investigations and reduce crime.’ As Keeling describes, this may affect the police’s ability to carry out investigations and arrest people who may be at risk of committing knife crime, but could potentially increase the chances of people carrying knives for racially charged reasons, to feel safer in their community, due to the lack of security they feel they have gained from the police – despite most convictions in the UK for knife-related crimes (Ministry of Justice, 2017).
Despite this, community policing has had some very positive effects on the general quality of life of the communities surrounding it, and stop and searches make up a small percentage of this – so the question still remains as to whether the non-enforcement related interactions between the wider public and PCSOs can cause meaningful improvements into solving knife crime. A field experiment by Peyton et al found that a community-focused intervention in policing showed that of the participants in all pre-registered ethnic subgroups in the study, black respondents had an initial impact of ~11 scale points, nearly twice as large as the response from white and hispanic participants. This would prove that community policing, despite the overall mistrust of stop and search, has an overall positive impact on the community and how quality of life is affected. A Campbell study by Gill et al (2014) examined the impact of community policing as a whole tactic on how it affects crime and disorder and citizen satisfaction, Although the study found that it only had a relatively small impact on levels of violent crime in the short, it was associated with more significant impacts with citizen satisfaction and perceived legitimacy in the longer term. This is useful to solving knife crime as, people are far less likely to carry around knives as a form of self-protection, if they feel like the police are doing protecting in the first instance.
Both forms of modern policing come with significant benefits to the local community, however, have different levels of immediate impact on violent crime; due to this – we can infer that Problem-Orientated policing would be more effective in solving knife crime. Reports by the College of Policing have supported this, by arguing that the ‘most effective methods to cure knife crime are multi-agency and multi-faceted’. Although the general effects of community policing include a more secure and safe community for citizens, this can’t guarantee a stronger deterrence in preventing the use of offensive weapons. By combatting the root cause of an issue, this creates a permanent impact on a wider group of individuals – whereas, the legitimacy gained from private citizens contributing to local policing, only creates a sense of security and doesn’t directly combat the issue itself. Evidence from McNeill and Wheeler demonstrates this: ‘educational attainment is lower for children with knife possession offences, which has been shown to be a risk marker for serious violence later in life’. It also combats a multitude of reasons as to why knife crime could potentially occur, such as, ‘Self protection and fear (‘defensive weapon carrying’), Self-presentation, particularly for individuals who want ‘street credibility’ and Utility (offensive weapon carrying). However, community policing is not as effective at tackling these specific issues, whereas community policing is much more successful in getting offensive weapons out of circulation. Case studies such as Operation Ceasefire and its splinter projects are also key evidence as to demonstrating why a problem-focused approach will be useful and provide a solid incentive and argument as to how a tailored-approach to specific crime issues would be incredibly effective at tackling knife crime. Other criticisms of community policing come into effective when debating which approach is more successful, such as the lack of power held by private citizens to actually contribute meaningful, and large scale impacts to knife crime specifically. The approach is fundamentally more useful when looking at more subdued and less violent crime issues, such as antisocial behaviour. For these reasons, most police constabularies have began using Problem-Orientated policing, when tackling knife crime as an issue in their area.