Children in Sussex feel forced to carry knives for protection amid soaring knife crime figures, a charity has warned.
Crimes involving a knife or bladed instrument have risen by 222 per cent since 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), compared to a national increase of 45 per cent.
The overall knife crime rate in Sussex is still lower than the national average, but the chief executive of knife crime charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, Patrick Green, said the numbers must be brought under control to stop children taking matters into their own hands.
“This confirms what I think a number of counties have seen outside of the big cities, which is that knife crime is rising fast in counties like Sussex,” he said. “It’s no longer the preserve of big cities.
“We feel county lines is playing a big part in this increase. We are finding an increase in knife possession figures in cities with county lines drug dealing.”
County lines drug dealing is when gangs from large cities move into smaller towns, often exploiting children and vulnerable people to sell drugs. “Once it’s established, it spreads rapidly,” Patrick added. “When one child holds a knife, others feel they have to begin carrying a knife for protection.
“Once they get embedded in that mindset it’s incredibly hard to shift – it becomes ingrained in their thinking. This suggests this is something that needs to be tackled quickly before it gets established.”
He said it was vital to educate children on the dangers of carrying a weapon and show there are other ways to feel safe.
In December, this newspaper revealed knife crime in Sussex had almost trebled between 2011 and June 2019, but these latest figures, just three months later, show a remarkable acceleration.
Figures published by the ONS on January 23 show total crime in Sussex went up by eight per cent in the year ending September 2019, with increases in all but one offence category.
Significantly, crimes often associated with county lines drug dealing all increased over the same 12-month period.
Drug offences rose by 15 per cent, violent crimes by 13 per cent and robbery by 27 per cent – with more than a quarter involving a blade.
Divisional Superintendent for West Sussex, Miles Ockwell, acknowledged county lines was part of the ‘complex’ knife crime issue.
He said research showed knife possession among young people was increasing as it makes some feel safer, but the force was working to dispel that misconception.
“Those who carry knives are also sadly more likely to become victims,” he said. “We’d like to urge anyone who feels tempted to carry a knife for their protection to please not do this and to seek help from us.”
Superintendent Ockwell pointed to the force’s Violence Reduction Unit, which looks to address the root causes of violent crime, and Operation Safety – a targeted operation aimed at reducing knife crime through enforcement, engaging with young people and intervention.
The recently formed Tactical Enforcement Unit (TCU) also tackles Sussex’s most wanted and prolific criminals, he said, which would help in the fight against county lines gangs.
Launched in December last year, the TCU consists of one central team formed of eight Police Constables, a sergeant and an inspector, but will grow to form three teams – one each in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove – by April 2020.
Sussex Police’s REBOOT programme also aims to engage with young people at risk of falling into a pattern of violent or criminal behaviour. The scheme has already helped more than 600 young people, according to Sussex Police.
The worrying crime surge coincides with police officer numbers in Sussex being slashed from 3,213 in 2010 to 2,645 in 2018 – a drop of 18 per cent – as austerity cuts implemented by the Conservative government left the force needing to make £90million in savings.
In October, the force announced plans to recruit 129 new police officers by April 2021, on top of an ongoing four-year, 250-officer recruitment drive.
Sussex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable, Julia Chapman, said the boost to frontline and specialist officers would help the force increase its visibility and combat serious and complex crime. She said: “Demands on our service continue to increase and like other police forces we too are seeing a similar rise in a number of different crime types.
“However when compared to the national picture, Sussex remains one of the safest places to live, work and visit.”
Sussex’s overall crime rate was at 72.8 per 1,000 population, according to the ONS figures, notably lower than the national rate of 87.8.
The Ben Kinsella Trust was set up in memory of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, who was stabbed to death in 2008. It campaigns and educates about the dangers of knives.