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Over 80 retailers visited in biggest knife test purchase operation Avon and Somerset Police has ever carried out

Officers carrying out a weapons sweep in Castle Park in Bristol

This week, Avon and Somerset Police are taking part in Operation Sceptre, a national week of action, with the aim of reducing the number of people carrying knives.

The operation, co-ordinated and led by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), brings police forces across the country together in a period of intensification to concentrate efforts on enforcement, education and engagement.

Force wide activity started on Saturday (13th November) when police volunteers worked with officers to test retailers’ compliance with the law, which states it is illegal to sell knives and other bladed articles to anyone under the age of 18. A range of stores from large supermarket chains to smaller army / outdoor shops were tested, in the biggest test purchase operation Avon and Somerset Police has ever carried out.

Of 82 shops tested, 21 failed, and sold a knife to an underage volunteer, or failed to ask for ID. Officers from the local Neighbourhood Policing Teams will visit retailers who failed and issue a warning notice, along with an advice pack which outlines the law and how they can adhere to it.

From the 13th to the 21st November, officers across Avon and Somerset will carry out range of activities including:

  • Delivery of Blunt Truth workshops in schools and community groups in Bristol. The Blunt Truth is a collaboration between Avon and Somerset Police and the NHS which aims to encourage young people to report if they know someone is carrying a knife. Participants also receive hands on first aid training delivered by NHS doctors and paramedics to help them save a life in the event of being witness to a stabbing.
  • Knife sweeps in locations where intelligence suggests that weapons may be stored or hidden
  • High visibility and plain clothes patrols of areas of high demand for anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and use and other crime which can lead to violence
  • Knife surrender bins installed in extra locations in addition to the permanent locations across Avon and Somerset
  • Partnership work with Border Force to intercept knives and other offensive weapons bought online and being brought into our area
  • Work with our partners in the region’s Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) to engage with young people on issues which can lead to them becoming involved in knife crime

Avon and Somerset Police’s force lead for knife crime Chief Inspector James Turner said: “Reducing violence in our communities is a key priority and we work hard every day of the year to realise this aim. However, taking part in Operation Sceptre twice a year allows us to target our efforts to tackle knife crime through education, enforcement and engagement, and achieve real results which make all of us safer.

“So far this year, knife possession offences have remained stable, compared to the same period last year and in 2020 we saw a 21% reduction, compared to 2019, which was likely helped by the pandemic and lockdowns. It’s reassuring that knife possession offences haven’t increased this year as restrictions have been eased, but we are not complacent and we know that there is real concern in our communities following recent tragic incidents involving young people.

“Our approach to tackling youth violence is a partnership one based on early intervention and diversion. Through the Violence Reduction Units (VRUs), we have dedicated school link officers and PCSOs building relationships with young people from an early age, educating them on how to stay safe.

“We have developed innovative schemes such as the Blunt Truth educational package and The Call In scheme, which looks to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to avoid the criminal justice system if they are arrested for first time drug supply offences. The scheme recognises the vulnerability of young people who are often groomed and exploited by criminal gangs, and offers them the chance to avoid prosecution by engaging with mentoring, diversion and opportunity building sessions.

“These schemes are just two examples of our how Avon and Somerset Police are looking at the bigger picture. We know we cannot enforce our way out of knife crime and we hear loud and clear our communities’ concerns, which is why we are strengthening our multiagency and diversionary pathways which seek to address the causes as well as the devastating symptoms of youth violence.”

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford said: “Working together to intervene and prevent serious violence, including knife crime, happening before it escalates is a priority for both my office and Avon and Somerset Police. At the weekend, I attended the knife test purchase operation with officers and police volunteers, and saw first-hand the hard work taking place to keep young people safe.

“The Violence Reduction Units across Avon and Somerset sees the force and other statutory agencies working together to support young adults who are vulnerable to being groomed and exploited by gangs. Such work must continue and we need to ensure we are working with the whole community to address the causes of serious violence. It is essential that we provide young people with pathways away from knife crime and, when needed, the police need to use robust enforcement to deter criminal activity.”

Last year, Avon and Somerset Police launched ‘Knife crime: A new way forward’, a campaign to engage young people in efforts to reduce knife crime. The programme is just one of a series of initiatives undertaken to engage with young people and saw pupils aged 13 – 15 from four schools based in Weston-super-Mare, Bristol and Taunton, create short, original animations about the issues they see as driving knife crime. One of the pupils involved in the animation project also created a documentary, which explored the themes arising from the project’s workshops in more depth.

For more information about Knife crime: A new way forward, Avon and Somerset Police’s approach to tackling knife crime and serious violence, information about the Blunt Truth workshops, as well as locations of knife surrender bins and details of support services visit www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/knifecrime