Scotland's knife crime needs 'sophisticated response'

Rank and file police officers are calling for a rethink on the way Scotland's blade culture is tackled.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said a "more sophisticated response" was needed to deal with people who used knives as weapons.

The comments follow BBC Scotland's analysis of official crime figures, which suggests the knife crime debate should be refocused.

It also shows the proportion of murders caused by knives has remained static.

And while the law has been strengthened to prevent the carrying of knives in public, statistics show the vast majority of murders happen in the home, where police are not present.

Knife crime has become a major political issue in recent years, with Labour making a key Scottish election manifesto pledge to ensure those carrying blades will go to jail.

Yet official crime figures show consistently that the majority of Scotland's murders are not caused by knives.

The Liberal Democrats' manifesto says that if elected, they will tackle knife crime by cracking down on Scotland's gang culture.

The call for a fresh debate comes on the eve of a debate at the Scottish Police Federation annual conference involving the leaders of the four main political parties.

Calum Steele, SPF general secretary, said: "The motivation to carry a knife may be influenced by jailing all carriers, but the motivation to use a knife demands a more sophisticated response."

He points to figures analysed in the BBC Scotland study which reveal most murders are carried out in residential locations rather than on the street - consistently about two-thirds of all cases.

"It remains a stubborn truth that too many murders occur in areas where the police have little ability to patrol and influence behaviour, such as the family home," he said.

"As important as it is, a focus on knives in public will not address that."

The SNP says violent crime is at its lowest level for a quarter of a century and the number of homicides has fallen by 34% since it took office.

It has promised to maintain the increase in police strength - a pledge echoed by the Conservatives, who say their support helped secure an additional 1,000 officers during the previous parliament.

'Justifiable demands'

The BBC analysis also shows the number of crimes committed has been falling steadily over the past 10 years, during which period the number of police officers has increased.

The police federation, which represents ranks up to chief inspector, called for an extra 1,000 officers at its annual conference in the run-up to the 2007 Scottish election.

Mr Steele said: "It comes as no surprise to us that the greatest reduction in crime has come about since we made that call, and Scotland's police numbers were boosted in accordance with our now clearly evidenced and justifiable demands."

A poll for BBC Scotland, carried out by ICM, ranked maintaining current police numbers as the second highest priority for voters.

Some commentators believe the link between the falling crime figures and increased police numbers is complex - and investment in policing can be reduced.

Calum Steele said: "I don't believe that rhetoric and, as the BBC's own poll shows, the public don't subscribe to that view either."

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