ChrisC objects in the comments on my previous post on all things knife crime, saying the statistics do not say that crime is falling. Going by the police statistics on violence against the person, he's right, which have been rising exponentially since the way they were recorded was changed in 1999. The past couple of years have seen this level off and the figures become stable. I am correct however when I refer to the British Crime Survey figures, considered more authoritative, which paint a completely different picture, with violent crime have fell by 43% since 1995. The police figures he links to conclude there were around 1,000,000 offences against the person in 2005/06 as reported, while the BCS for the same year measures over 2,500,000, a drop from a peak of 4,000,000 in 1995. Crime itself by both measures has also been falling since 1995 (PDF), but as we know all too well, it doesn't feel like that and very few outside police/political/judicial circles believe it.
The major flaw in the BCS when it comes to the current apparent epidemic of knife crime is that it doesn't survey under-16s, who are also those who are in the front-line of muggings for expensive gadgets, such as mp3 players and mobile phones. This is to change, as was announced by "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, but for now it is still the best measure we have. Also to consider is that increasingly those who are the victims of violent crime are turning up to hospital without reporting it and giving asinine stories when asked what happened to them. There have been trials in Scotland in hospitals that have attempted to link the numbers of those admitted to A&E with stab wounds etc with the eventual number of crimes reported, and to highlight how big the discrepancy is. This is something that most certainly needs to at least be considered south of the border, as the only way we'll ever get to the bottom of how the deep the problem is through valid, unquestionable statistics from all sources, police, BCS, hospital, even schools, as Lee Jasper(!) argues very eloquently on CiF in an excellent post which has a number of good suggestions of how to tackle knife crime without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Also vital is that the independent body Louise Casey recommended in her report for crime statistics of all varieties is established, which will hopefully put a stop to the selective and partisan reading of the crime figures.
Also very interesting on the statistics score is this post by the BBC's Mark Easton, who's digging on hospital patients with various wounds is rather eye-opening:
Between the years 2002-3 and 2006-7, the number of these children admitted to hospital with knife wounds in England "almost doubled" we are told. From 95 cases to 179. A rise of 88%.
However, over the same period, the numbers of under-16s admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds has gone down from 253 to 181. A fall of 28%.
So, 84 more children were admitted with stab injuries than five years earlier. But 72 fewer children were admitted with gunshot injuries.
If no distinction is made between knife and gun injuries, the headline might read "teen violence stable.
Given the particular anxiety over youngsters with knives, I looked at the most recent data for under-16s and spotted something quite surprising. Of those 179 children admitted to hospital last year, 72 or 40% were in London.
Knife fights appear to be a particular and growing problem in the capital. Juvenile disputes are too often resolved with a blade.
It is a different story in the North West of England. In Manchester and Liverpool it is gunshot wounds that the hospitals are predominantly dealing with.
Between 2002-3 and 2006-7, London doctors treated 33 children with wounds from firearms. In the North West, medics patched up an astonishing 251.
During the same period, London A & E departments admitted 225 children with stab wounds compared with 117 in the North West.
What do we conclude from all this? Well, I don't think these figures tell a story of increasingly ferocious juvenile violence sweeping the land. Instead, they offer clues to the nature of predominantly urban gang culture.
If you don't believe me, consider this. In 2002-3, not one school child was treated for a stab wound anywhere in central and south east England outside London. How many victims were there in this large and populous region last year? None.
This is what I've been arguing here on the previous post and before. While there are serious, apparently intractable problems in London involving knife crime, and gun problems in Manchester and Liverpool, of which we've heard relatively little since the tragedy involving Rhys Jones, outside of the major cities there is not some huge crisis involving weapons, especially not "a Dark Age of lawlessness" as the Sun so hyperbolically put it. The emphasis on London is understandable - it is the capital city, reflects England and Britain as a whole and is where the media is encamped, and so of immediate concern to them and their children. For those of us outside of it however who simply don't recognise this picture of a land in constant fear of teenagers carrying blades, it rankles. While it would be crude to describe what's happening in London as a moral panic, as 18 teenagers this year already have lost their lives, what is noticeable is pattern of coverage. A couple of years ago the main concern was guns. At the beginning of this year it was drunken feral teenagers kicking adults to death for little to no reason. At the moment it's knives. The circle will probably square before too long.
The Sun itself, predictably, is in no mood for introspection or such analysis. Like with previous victims of crime where it's difficult to determine who's using who, the Sun is relying on emotion, this time from Ben Kinsella's distraught and clearly in mourning sister Brooke. Her suggestion is for national service to be brought back seems to be more one of desperation than of complete seriousness:
“I want politicians to consider bringing back National Service. If these evil people want to fight so badly, let them fight for their country. If they want to pick up a weapon, let them fight for a good cause.
“We’re losing hundreds of innocent boys in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we may as well send these criminals overseas to fight. The only way to stop this is to do something extreme.”
It doesn't seem to have been put gently to her by the Sun journalists responsible for the interview that the last thing the army needs are "evil people" when they're fighting what is not a typical war but one against an insurgency where public support of those in the area is crucial, and that training already violent young individuals to been even more ruthless in survival tactics is not the greatest of ideas, but then the paper isn't interested in realism. It simply wants her words to move minds for its own agenda.
There is this rebuke to the Sun's continuous demands for more prisons without thinking of the consequences however:
“I want to see proper prisons brought back,” she said. “It’s like a badge of honour for kids to be put in prisons these days. Inside, they gain more respect and make contacts which they use to become even harder criminals when they’re released. They’re in for a couple of years and when they come out they’re treated like heroes.”
Although what a "proper prison" is is anyone's guess.
Again, not that this alters the Sun's editorial view:
EACH day seems to bring more horror than the last.
The Sun warned yesterday that we are sinking into a Dark Age of crime.
And now we learn of the ghastly slaughter of two fine young French students in a London bedsit.
Even in the current climate of violence, the savagery of their murders leaves us numb with horror and revulsion.
Those murders are clearly an exceptional case, and as PDF reflects, it would be a major surprise if burglary really was the primary motive when such extreme violence and brutality was used. As we've seen though, to call this a "Dark Age of crime" is to ignore the evidence in front of your face.
As The Sun has repeatedly said, our political leaders, the police and the courts must show they grasp the seriousness of the crisis we face.
That means more arrests, stiffer sentences, more jails.
But more must be done to break up the gang culture.
Many will agree with grieving actress Brooke Kinsella, who calls in The Sun today for a return of National Service.
Quite. If there's one thing that'll break up gang culture, it'll be ordering them about and splitting them into regiments.
Brooke, whose brother Ben was killed by a knife gang, believes a tough spell of compulsory military life would stop teenagers drifting into street crime.
She believes it would instil in them discipline, respect and common decency.
Actually, she doesn't say anything like that all, or if she did it's not included in the interview write-up. The only thing she says about it is what I've quoted above. Looks like the Sun is trying to develop the idea for her or put words in her mouth. Either way, it's still an unworkable suggestion.
National Service was created to prepare a generation of young men to defend us from an enemy abroad.
Now the enemy is within.
Now the language is similar to that regarding the terrorist threat. Of course, if there was now a successful attack, the mood would swiftly swing from concern about knife crime to exploding brown people again. In both cases talking of an enemy within is over-the-top and unhelpful, but again that doesn't seem to matter.
Decent young people would feel outraged that they were having to suffer because of a mindless minority.
But the crisis we face is engulfing everyone.
That means nothing — including National Service — can be ruled out in our battle to end the savagery.
As we've seen, the crisis is not engulfing everyone, and it would be nice if the Sun could admit that it isn't. Once you've built your prospectus around eternal terror or insecurity on the streets though it's difficult to back down. Using such potentially counter-productive and discriminatory tactics will do nothing to solve the crisis that does exist, and will instead embitter a whole generation out of the desire that something must be done.
Then again, it could be worse. You could think that giving kids PlayStations for telling us what their lives are like is a good idea, as does the completely brainless Polly (what is it with that name?) Hudson via Anton Vowl.
Labels: Brooke Kinsella, emotional pornography, feral kids will kill us all, knife crime, overreacting, Scum-watch, Sun-watch, tabloid mendacity, youth crime