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Detective discovers way of 'forecasting where deadly knife attacks will occur'


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Stabbing assaults data could help prevent next year's murders, study reveals.

Survey findings: Better data is needed to fight knife homicide

Survey findings: Better data is needed to fight knife homicide

Date - 15th April 2019
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle
6 Comments6 Comments}


Painstaking research by a detective may have unlocked a “best chance” prevention strategy by predicting which neighbourhoods are most likely to suffer fatal stabbings in the future.

Detective Chief Inspector John Massey manually trawled through assault data over a 12-month period and found a link with deadly knife crime.

More than two-thirds of the killings in 2017-18 occurred in areas where someone had suffered a non-fatal attack with a bladed weapon the previous year, a new study suggests.

Research, published in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing, found that during 2016-17 the Met Police geo-coded 3,506 incidents where people were stabbed and cut but survived, using London's 4,835 local census areas.

The data was then compared to the locations of the 97 London homicides in the 2017-18 financial year.

The study, based on the most comprehensive knife assault data yet, says the forecasts would enable preventive action to be taken in those high risk areas such as chaperones to escort children to and from school and knife arches at school entrances to detect pupils carrying weapons.

"If assault data forecasts that a neighbourhood is more likely to experience knife homicide, police commanders might consider everything from closer monitoring of school exclusions to localised use of stop-and-search," said study co-author Professor Lawrence Sherman from the University of Cambridge.

"Better data is needed to fight knife homicide.

"The current definition of knife crime is too broad to be useful, and lumps together knife-enabled injuries with knife threats or even arrests for carrying knives."


  • Knife crime maps injuries for London in 2016-17

Current crime statistics do not distinguish between incidents without injury – displaying of knives during robberies, for example and those where knives have wounded.

"Police IT is in urgent need of refinement," he said. "Instead of just keeping case records for legal uses, the systems should be designed to detect crime patterns for prioritising targets.

"We need to transform IT from electronic filing cabinets into a daily crime forecasting tool."

Each assault analysed in the study was coded to a local census areas, some as small as a few football fields.

More than half of London’s 2,781 areas had no knife assaults at all in the first year.

Of these areas, one per cent saw a homicide in year two.

Of the 41 neighbourhoods that had six or more injuries from knife assaults in the first year, 15 per cent went on to suffer a homicide the following year.

The researchers argue that this reveals a large increase in homicide risk.

DCI Massey from the Met's Homicide Command, who went through the data, said: "These findings indicate that officers can be deployed in a smaller number of areas in the knowledge that they will have the best chances there to prevent knife-enabled homicides."

The study cautioned that using data to focus on assault hotspots is not a "panacea", but Prof Sherman said it could "enhance the effectiveness of scarce resources" when combined with intelligence-gathering on the streets.

The study's authors say the last decade of deadly knife crime has been a "moving target".

The research found that in the 10 years up to 2018, there were 590 knife homicides across London spread over 523 different census areas – suggesting little repetition of homicide location.

The 41 top hotspots in the study contained only six per cent of the following year's total knife deaths.

No single area in the 2017-18 financial year had more than one fatal stabbing.

However, 69 per cent of the knife homicides occurred in census areas where at least one non-fatal knife assault had taken place the year before.

In response, Commander David Musker said the Met was "always open to reviewing and utilising emerging academic research" and that it supported its own current research.

He added: "Any research that can help inform both the short and long-term response to violence is very welcome.

"We already conduct high-visibility patrols within high-demand areas and hotspots and proactively police high-risk suspects and known offenders as part of our daily policing plans.

"We also use predictive analytics and mapping to target our patrols and make best use of our resource, prioritising the greatest areas of threat, risk and harm.

"This is something that the Met, and colleagues across the country, have been developing and utilising to great effect for a number of years."

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