There seems to be a perception that Gloucestershire – though Gloucester in particular and perhaps Cheltenham to a lesser degree – is experiencing a surge in knife crime. This has been fostered by a number of appalling murders in which blades were involved.
Even though we may not have known them personally, what happened to Hollie Gazzard, Zach Evans and Dolton Powell is etched into the city’s sub-conscious and makes us cry out ‘for something to be done’ to arrest this apparent trend. The question is how best to achieve the effective and sustainable solution we crave?
To try and do so, I commissioned the independent research organisation Cityforum to examine recent events locally in the context of what is happening elsewhere in the country. I also called a summit of many of Gloucestershire’s main opinion formers and policy makers from the criminal justice, health, education, social and political sectors.
The clear conclusion is that knife crime cannot be regarded in isolation since it occurs in the context of domestic disputes and gang conflict over drugs and territory. Many young people, mostly males, also carry knives in the misguided belief it offers them protection when in fact it enhances the risk of violence. Reassuringly, the research suggested possession and use of knives is on the increase but cast doubt that in Gloucestershire it is in any way comparable to the UK’s major cities.
Managing the problem, whether by prevention, protection or enforcement presents challenges not only to the police and other relevant organisations but to local communities as well. Cityforum reports that much positive effort is being undertaken by the police, my office, local authorities, health, education and the volunteer sector. The Constabulary is seen as intelligent and measured in its handling of the problem and the local authority has played its part well. Schools are helpful and the NHS is making a valuable and well recognised contribution in Gloucestershire.
But what people observe for themselves is also important in building trust and confidence for we know that the fear of crime is often worse than the reality.
Although achieving that ‘sustainable solution’, by its very nature, will take time but we should be encouraged that much good work is already being undertaken in the county. The summit showed a willingness to do something; the challenge now is to galvanise those aspirations. Talk is cheap, so the saying goes, and in a time of austerity and scare resources it cannot be left solely to official bodies to make progress. Community involvement is also critical in terms of understanding culture and the needs of the vulnerable and impressionable.
I commissioned the review and summit in order to address the concerns around knife crime. That was the easy part and I am determined it will not become a box ticking exercise. The aim must be to prevent more awful tragedies such as those that befell Hollie, Zach and Dolton even though it will take a concerted effort driven by those who have the capability and capacity to ensure it.