A nationwide seven-day police crackdown on knife crime can have a “really huge” impact, according to a Home Office minister.
All forces in England and Wales are taking part in the clampdown, which is part of the police’s Operation Sceptre, by using surrender bins, stop-and-search powers and weapon sweeps to target habitual blade-carriers.
Victoria Atkins MP joined Metropolitan Police officers in Lewisham, south-east London, on Monday as they searched for weapons stashed in the area.
She said that while the police “work every week to tackle knife crime”, the crackdown will send “a really big message that knife crime and carrying a knife is not normal and is not tolerated”.
Police officers searched through bushes and undergrowth near the town centre to try to find hidden weapons in an effort to take them off the streets and analyse them forensically in case they are linked to crimes.
Ms Atkins said: “Just this morning people wandering round, going about their business, seeing a great big team of police officers just there to reassure and keep the local community safe, I think that in itself is really valuable.”
A “community response” is important as well as the policing measures, she said, adding: “Many forces this week will send officers into schools to talk about knife crime and the consequences of carrying a knife.”
Stabbings have been under the spotlight following a string of fatal attacks on Britain’s streets over the last few weeks.
Teenagers, including 17-year-old Jodie Chesney who was killed in east London, have featured prominently among the victims.
When asked whether a fall in the number of police officers is linked to levels of knife crime, Ms Atkins said: “We know that the causes of violent crime across the country are very complex.”
The number of officers in the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales has fallen by more than 20,000 since 2009.
However Superintendent Darius Hemmatpour from the Metropolitan Police’s violent crime task force, who was also at the weapons sweep, said that police numbers are linked to knife crime.
He said: “Of course it does have an impact but we just have to be smarter and more effective, and that’s what we are doing.
“We are maximising the opportunity to make officers visible to minimise that impact.
“But if you remove 20,000 officers it’s going to have some level of impact on crime, in my personal view.”
Mr Hemmatpour added that weapon sweeps are a “form of reassurance”, adding: “It’s vitally important the public and community see us actively out on the streets.”
Operation Sceptre has seen thousands of weapons seized and placed in amnesty bins since it began in July 2015.