Police must stop sharing thousands of images of knives

My colleague in the London Assembly, Caroline Russell, has published research showing that more than 2,000 images of knives were shared in one year by Met police twitter accounts.

This matters because there has never been any evidence that putting out frightening images of knives helps to prevent crime, while many believe this increases fear and even encourages young people to consider carrying weapons.

The research showed the highest number of such images came from the cross-borough Met Taskforce and the Roads and Transport Police, with 229 images shared by the taskforce alone. Borough police accounts in London shared more than 600 images of knives, while ward team accounts added over a thousand more to the total.

In contrast, the three leading crime prevention charities in London shared only two knife images between them, and the mayor’s prevention-focused Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) shared no images of knives at all.

The photos shared by borough teams are largely taken following local police operations. But they also posted photos from other boroughs that have never been on our local streets, and some even used stock photos found online.

Greens in the London Assembly have consistently challenged the use of these images, while young people advising the VRU regularly speak up to say that fear of danger is a driving factor for carrying weapons.

As long ago as 2017, I challenged the Met Commissioner about images of “zombie” knives being used in police presentations to primary schools. Yet the new research found a team of Safer Schools Officers taking a display case full of large weapons into schools.

This is not only scary, it must be counter productive. Academic research is being carried out, and the mayor and police are waiting for this to be published and delaying any change in Met policy. But I believe there has been enough evidence for some time.

Where is the harm in simply sticking to positive messages to promote the benefits of avoiding weapons and avoiding images that could increase fear? I hope that we will see a change soon, because every year that thousands of knife images are published by the police is a year when they could needlessly be doing more harm than good.

Image showing thousands of mini screen grabs of Met account tweets containing knife images

Article originally published in the Ham&High newspaper Oct 2021