Yesterday’s News of the World included an ICM poll of under 25s about knife crime. Considering that the British Crime Survey doesn’t include juvenile crime, and that while actual stabbing will very probably end up as recorded crime figures, people carrying knives, or waving knives about probably won’t, it gives an interesting view of exactly how widespread knife crime amongst young people is.

48% of young people thought they themselves were at risk from knife crime, with 36% disagreeing. Only 4% admitted themselves to having carried a knife “for protection”. With polls asking young people whether they have done illegal or socially unacceptable things, I often ponder whether any interviewing effect will be a positive or negative factor – will young people be embarrassed to admit to things, or will they boastfully tend to exaggerate such things? In this case the poll was conducted online, so the interviewer effect should not have been a major factor. A bigger stumbling block is that the stereotypical demographic of knife carrying youth – surly, illiterate hoodies hanging around the streets – probably aren’t the sort to have found themselves on an online panel recruited through telephone market research.

Asked if they knew other people who had carried or carry a knife, 25% of young people said they did, including 30% of under 20s. That still probably isn’t a particularly high number – ICM didn’t ask if they knew someone who habitually carried a knife, or if it was someone they knew well. Some of those yes’s could be no more than a vague aquaintance taking a knife out once to show off. More meaningful was the 11% of under 25s who said they themselves had been threatened with a knife. 37% said they knew someone who had been threatened or attacked with a knife.

Asked why they thought young people carried knives, 47% said peer pressure, 27% protection and 23% to threaten or rob people with.

There was overwhelming support (93%) for the police being able to stop and search people who they thought were carrying knives. Considering that opposition to more stop and search usually hinges on issues of targetting and racial considerations, support was not significantly lower amongst ethnic minority respondents (91%).

62% said that prison sentences would be the most effective deterrent to knife crime. 75% thought that the present sentencing guidelines for carrying a knife (a maximum sentence of 4 years plus a fine of £5000, but with no automatic prison sentence) were too soft, with 71% supporting a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years. Asked about the idea of a 9pm curfew for under 18s, a majority (53%) were opposed. Perhaps more surprising was the proportion of young people in favour, even amongst under 20s, 35% supported the idea.


6 Responses to “Young people and knife crime”

  1. My ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s friends told me they were carrying knives in the late 1980’s /early 1990’s. One shouldn’t underestimate just how much violence there has always been in England.

  2. I agree with wolf on that one. I grew up largely in middle-class Dublin, and I knew lots of people who carried knives. I even had one, although it was not for violent use! In fact only 30% of people knowing someone who has carrid a knife is really very low…

    I think the recent BCS figures highlight how this entire area can be highjacked and influenced by media and a poor understanding of statistics. Crime is certainly a problem, but the world isn’t ending.

    As one commentator put it, in a normal year there are roughly 300 fatal stabbings, nearly one a day. Given that most of these will happen over the weekend, three or four on a single Friday or Saturday is sadly what one might expect.

  3. Fair enough, the media may be exaggerating the overall level of crime, however my personal experience tells me that society has become more lawless even if not reflected in the official stats.

    Here is an example of how lax attitudes to policing may have an impact on ‘reducing’ resultant recorded crime.
    Recently I had cause to call the police. A car smashed into me at a roundabout then sped away, I took the reg. no and relayed what had happened to the police over the phone. As the lady who answered was in a central office 60 miles from where I live it took a lot of effort on my part to relay the basics of where the incident occurred. I wonder how many people give up at this first hurdle? Gone are the days when local police meant local. She asked me if I was hurt, I replied that I wasn’t. I was informed that therefore no crime had been committed! He could have been, indeed doubtless was, driving uninsured but this was not checked.

    This is not my first experience of ‘crimes’ going un-policed. I wonder if people living in poorer and more crime-ridden areas even bother to report them any more.

    Unless ‘minor’ incidents are dealt with then those of a criminal bent will be more likely to progress onto the likes of violent and more menacing crimes.

    I regard myself as fairly liberal minded and haven’t read a tabloid in years but I don’t believe this is all just hype.

  4. Guardian/ICM have a new poll out, Labour up 3% and Cons down 2% but further fall in Brown/Darling rating vs Cameron/Osbourne

  5. When looking at knife carrying etc. I am interested to see that the definition of “knife” often now includes penknives.

    When I was at school in the 70s – a Grammar school in rural Lancashire not an inner-city comp – EVERYONE carried a penknife. In fact the school rules specifically allowed the carrying of penknives, and teachers would often ask to borrow one for… various reasons. Both my children have penknives.

    The problem is that inclusion of penknives in “do you carry a knife” surveys skews things. I know a penknife is a knife, technically, and could cause harm, technically, but in practice there is a world of difference between a multi-functional gadget and a weapon.

  6. The process of de-localisation of law & order administration has a serious and oft overlooked impact on political attitudes in this area – partly because the implicit connection between the police and the polis they serve is being lost as the weight of new legislation rebalances the emphasis of policing duries.

    In addition media bias towards urban areas and the political agenda du jour overlooks the difference in attitude between urban, suburban, semi-rural and rural communities while the news-skimming undertaken by news editors necessarily ignores changes in reporting practice over time.

    Shouldn’t we be asking whether any glaring holes or omissions in news reporting represents news itself? Especially as what we ignore today will become tomorrow’s problem – left-over waste will become the reheated dish du jour…

    Are we right to be hysterical now, or were we wrong not to be hysterical yesterday?