Why working with retailers is crucial to driving down knife crime

This week, during a very chilly half term, we hit the pavements of Bedford town centre as part of Operation Sceptre, a national week-long knife crime reduction initiative. We were out and about to carry out a test purchase operation – in short, to see if local retailers would sell knives to under 18s.

It is illegal to sell a knife or similar bladed article to a person under the age of 18. Retailers have a vital role in ensuring that young people can’t buy these items, restricting availability to those who may wish to go on and cause harm.

As a force we’re working hard to tackle knife crime, part of which is working with retailers to ensure they know the potential implications of selling knives to under 18s.

With me on Wednesday in the north of the county were PC Rob Sparkes, from our Licensing team, and two of our Cadets; Cordelia, 16, and Rosie, 15, who volunteered to make the test purchases.  We also had a team working simultaneously in the south of the county, made up of PC Darren Welch, Licensing Officer Karen Few, and Cadets Omar and Shabbar, both 16.

QD was the first store the girls tried in Bedford, and they quickly came back to tell us they’d been challenged for ID by the shop assistant and refused the sale when they couldn’t prove they were over 18 years of age. So far so good.

This pattern was repeated in Poundland, Poundworld, Beales, Wilko’s and TK Maxx. Poundworld had even moved its display of ‘Stanley’ type knives behind the checkout to ensure that purchases are overseen, and deter any temptation to shoplift instead. This was following advice from our north community team earlier in the week.

Debenhams’ homeware department refused the girls the knife at the checkout. We also noticed a ‘Challenge 30’ sign in the homeware department here which means that staff members will request ID for a knife purchase if a buyer looks under 30. This is encouraging and shows that the chain is taking under-age sales very seriously.

Whilst the legal age to purchase knives is 18, age verification schemes such as ‘Challenge 25’ ensure that mistakes are not made in trying to determine if someone is old enough.

After each attempt, I went into the store to speak with a manager. It was refreshing to hear how staff have been trained, and how seriously everyone spoken to takes the issue. One staff member commented on how a friend of her 15-year-old son had recently been the victim of a knifepoint robbery, and appreciated seeing the police taking action to restrict knife availability.

In total across the county, 29 premises were visited by the licensing team.

If a retailer does sell a knife to someone under 18, which disappointingly happened on the same day at stores in Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard we review the circumstances around each case in determining the appropriate follow-up action. This can range from anything between a written warning or criminal caution, right up to prosecution in court.

All those who failed will be re-tested in the near future, making prosecution far more likely should they fail again.

The message from us is clear: retailers have a legal and moral responsibility not to sell a knife to someone under the age of 18. It is an offence that both the individual seller and business involved can be liable for, and can attract a penalty of up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine on conviction.

The day was not just about reminding shops and their staff of their responsibilities, but also about ensuring that retail sale is not an option for a young person who may wish to arm themselves with a knife.

This operation is just a small part of our Operation Sceptre activity, which, amongst other things, includes youth engagement and awareness elements.

I’d also like to pay tribute to our cadets, Cordelia, Rosie, Omar, and Shabbar, who gave up their free time and carried out their duties so professionally. Their impeccable attitude and work not only helps our long-term goals of reducing knife crime across the county, but may also have stopped a knife getting into the wrong hands. Without the on-going support of cadets like them, we would not be able to conduct these vital operations.

Sergeant Liam Mitchell works in the force’s Licensing team, and this test purchase operation was part of Operation Sceptre, a week of activity to clamp down on knife crime.

 

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“Working in the Offender Management Unit can reap huge rewards”

A lot of people can’t understand why anyone would choose to work with sex offenders, but I saw it as a challenge that could potentially have a huge reward at the end of it.

Investigations could end up in custodial sentences or, by working with the offenders closely, I have the opportunity to try and rehabilitate them. We also work closely with partner agencies, such as the National Probation Service.

I’ve been working in the Offender Management Unit since July 2016 after applying for a career development opportunity, as I decided I wanted to upskill and have a change of direction in my career.

Our day-to-day work consists of managing sex offenders living in the community. We are required to visit them within their home environment, and assess their risk, as well as managing their prohibitions documented in the Court Orders they have been made subject to.

The investigation world was a whole new area for me. Having already completed 14 years’ service within the force in different departments, this type of work was challenging and very intensive from day one.

The investigation concerning Gabriel May – who has just been sentenced for two years for possession of indecent images of children – started when we visited his address for the first time.

He had recently moved into Bedfordshire and was already listed on the Sex Offenders Register after serving a two-year custodial sentence back in 2014 when living in Aylesbury.

The Offender Management Unit at Bedfordshire Police is very proactive and we carry out unannounced home visits. 

May had been using his computer before we arrived and I noticed the different window pages open on his device. His computer was looked at and due to an image that I found concerning, we called our colleagues working within the Cyber Hub to assist us and complete a download of his computer at the scene using their specialist equipment.

The download revealed that May had been using search terms relating to indecent images of children and he was arrested. He had also concealed other storage devices in his room that put him in breach of his Court Order from his previous conviction.

The devices were sent to our Cyber Hub to be triaged and downloaded. All seven devices seized from May’s home address were positive for indecent images.

The sheer amount of images to grade was overwhelming. On one device alone, there were over 4,000 images. My colleague and I painstakingly graded the images over a period of three weeks. The indecent material that was downloaded onto the devices was difficult to look at and very distressing.

We are very lucky in the Offender Management team that we have a wealth of experience on hand from our colleagues and our supervisors within the unit. We called on some of our colleagues who are experienced in such offences to assist us with the grading of the images and file preparation.

In total, May was found to have 1,593 Category A images, 971 Category B images, 905 Category C images, 480 prohibited images and 87 extreme pornography images and videos.

He has also been made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and breaching this order upon his release could result in a five years imprisonment.

This investigation lasted 10 months. My colleagues within the unit are always there to help one another and I feel privileged to work with such an amazing bunch of people. I couldn’t have done it without them all.

Nikki Penniston-Kordek, Investigation Officer

 

“Restorative Justice can change lives in Bedfordshire.”

I joined Bedfordshire Police in 2010, and the last seven and a half years have flown by! The majority of my career so far has been spent on Community and Response Policing.  I joined the Restorative Justice Unit in March 2017.

I absolutely loved Response Policing and even though Response have a huge demand with fewer officers I still believe it is a great place to work, the team work and support from fellow officers is outstanding.

Sadly in 2013 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and since then I have had surgery every year. I have

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Chris Turner (second from right) with his Restorative Justice colleagues

also recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  Unfortunately, this led to me making the decision to come away from Response Policing, I had to accept the long hours and shift work was having a detrimental effect on my illnesses.  Bedfordshire Police has really looked after me since my diagnosis and supported me in every way they could, even making changes within the organisation to help me continue with my career.

So when I was presented with the opportunity to join the Restorative Justice Unit I jumped at the chance.  I have always had a keen interest in Restorative Justice and a few years ago I read a couple of books on Restorative Justice, one of the books was called The Damage Done by Peter Woolf, Peter was a career criminal and a drug user.  He was arrested and sent to prison for Burglary offences.  Whilst in Prison Peter took part in a Restorative Justice conference with one of his victims of Burglary.  From this conference Peter completely changed his life, he is now a consultant for Restorative Justice and works with many organisations, including the police, delivering awareness of Restorative Justice.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is so important for victims of crime, it is also part of the Victims Code of Practice and should be offered to every victim of crime.  Throughout the Criminal justice process there is very little opportunity for the victim to have their say, but RJ gives the victim a voice. It allows them to put questions to the offender in a controlled facilitated conference and allows the victim to ask ‘why me?’

More importantly it helps the victim overcome the crime and reduces the chance of the victim suffering with PTSD.  I have watched victims grow with confidence whilst taking part in the conference and it is absolutely amazing to see. It is so powerful for the victim to be able to get answers to their questions.  Also just as powerful, is watching the offender realise the harm they have caused the victim and in some instances the offender has broken down in tears when that realisation hits them of how much harm they have caused the victim.

After the conference there is a period where all parties can talk freely with each other, this is amazing to watch as the victim and offender talk together and discuss the future. The offender will often agree to take steps to change and repair some of the harm done to the victim.  It is just beautiful to see the fear leave the victim and watch them chat openly with each other.

RJ is not new, it has been around for many years. I am so pleased we are using it as I have seen first-hand how it changes lives. In June of this year I passed my Conference Facilitator training so I will now be able to facilitate conferences myself.

I really support the forces vision on taking RJ forward.  RJ processes can be used in so many environments like schools, colleges, and work places and I look forward to being part of the vision of having a Restorative Bedfordshire not just Restorative Justice in Bedfordshire Police.

Constable Chris Turner – Restorative Justice Conferencing Unit