Knife images posted to social media by police can be used as an “intelligence source” by young people caught up in knife crime, according to London’s Violence Reduction Unit.
Young Londoners working with the unit, set up by City Hall, as part of its Young People’s Action Group have commissioned University College London to conduct research into the effects that knife images have on young people.
It comes following the worst year on record for teenage homicides in London, with 30 killings taking place in 2021.
While existing research has revealed that the sharing of knife images can make young people more fearful of knife crime, the new report will aim to provide clearer evidence of the effects that knife images have on those aged between 16 and 25.
Young people working with the unit have suggested that knife images posted to social media are being used as “intelligence” about what types of weapons are being carried in which areas. This has raised concerns that some young people carry more dangerous weapons in a bid to protect themselves.
Tyrell Davis-Douglin of the Young People’s Action Group has said that “there are better ways to achieve the goal of removing dangerous weapons and reducing violence” than sharing images of seized knives online.
He said: “We want to support young Londoners and uplift our communities to a place of mass empowerment and opportunity.
“The Young People’s Action Group wants to investigate the impact of police posting images of large knives recovered in our local communities. What we have heard from other empowered young women and men is that posting images of knives on social media platforms creates a sense of fear.”
Davis-Douglin added that part of the approach to tackling youth violence “must include effective rehabilitation” for knife users to help “take them out of the circumstantial issues to which they find themselves carrying a knife in the first place”.
While other police forces in England – including the Thames Valley and South Yorkshire forces – no longer share images of knives seized by officers on social media due to the harmful effects it can have, the Metropolitan Police regularly shares knife images online.
Green Party London Assembly member Caroline Russell revealed in October that the Met had shared more than 2,000 knife images online in a 12-month period.
Russell has previously called on the Met to stop sharing knife images, while London mayor Sadiq Khan has also said he hopes that the police will “change their stance” on the issue.
She welcomed the news that new research is being commissioned, but asked: “What further proof does the mayor need that young people are worried about this?”
She said: “Young people in the mayor’s own Violence Reduction Unit, which posted no images of knives in comparison, are understandably concerned that these images of frightening blades on social media contribute to a sense of fear in communities and can prompt people to ‘tool up’.
“The assembly recently voted unanimously, cross-party, in support of my call that the mayor must ask the Met to pause sharing images of scary knives on police social media accounts. It’s crucial to the lives of young Londoners that he acts urgently on this.”
Joe Talora is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority, based at the Evening Standard. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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