Academics in the Forensic and Applied Investigative Research group (FaIR) at Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Sheffield, South Yorkshire’s Violence Reduction Unit and Thame’s Valley’s Violence Reduction Unit have received funding from the N8 Policing Research Partnership to explore whether using images of confiscated knives, both with in-person interventions and in the media, may cause more harm than good.
The research, led by psychologists Dr Charlotte Coleman, Dr Kate Whitfield and Dr Martin Thirkettle from Sheffield Hallam, aims to investigate the effects knife images have on perceptions of the level of knife carrying as well as the fears and attitudes that surround knives.
This will inform future public engagement, whether through school-based interventions, national campaigns such as #knifefree, the work that police forces carry out with young people and media releases.
The research comes after forces such as South Yorkshire Police and Thames Valley Police now avoid showing such images for fear that they are making the public more, not less, worried about knife crime.
It will examine if this approach may avoid increasing fear about knife crime, or whether the lack of knife images may be reducing the impact of these messages and reducing young people’s engagement with them.
For young people there is a worry that using knife images could increase their desire for protection and carry knives.
Psychologist Dr Charlotte Coleman at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We are delighted to be working across our Sheffield universities, and with our Violence Reduction Unit partners in South Yorkshire and Thames Valley.
“This research contributes to our ongoing work around violent crime and will enable us to inform the development of future work into knife crime reduction activity.”
The research is due to begin this month with school visits across South Yorkshire and the Thames Valley.
Mike Parker, Performance Review Officer for the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit said: “We want to make sure that our messages have impact. What we don’t know is if pairing them with images of knives improves or distracts from these messages. What we don’t want is to frighten young people into thinking that carrying a knife is more common than it is.
“This research will help us understand how young people react to knife images, and make sure we get it right.”
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “For some time now knife crime has blighted too many lives and communities, including some in South Yorkshire.
“I am often asked to fund campaigns to deter people from carrying knives that feature photographs or images of them.
“However, we need to be sure that these images do indeed deter rather than frighten or cause anxiety or lead people to think they must take them up as ‘protection’.
“I welcome this research which, hopefully, will give us some definitive answers to these crucial concerns.”
Owen Miller, Violence Reduction and Public Health Development Officer at Thames Valley Police said: “We are really excited about being part of this piece of research, which will help us understand the best ways we can help support young people to live happy, healthy and #knifefree lives.
“Whilst we rightly want to highlight our successes removing dangerous weapons from the streets, we need to ensure we do this in a way that does not have the undesired effect of increasing fear of violent crime.
“We are grateful to the N8 Policing Research Partnership for funding this important research which we hope will add significant knowledge to this area of our work”.