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Public money spent on knife bins and media campaigns might not help to reduce violence, research finds

Knife bins and high-profile media campaigns are two tactics commonly used across England and Wales to help prevent knife crime. But do they make a difference? A new analysis of international research by the Home Office funded charity, the Youth Endowment Fund, suggests money is being spent on these initiatives without any evidence that they have any real and lasting impact.

Knife surrender schemes (also called weapon or knife amnesties) involve providing bins or collection points where people can drop off weapons with ‘no questions asked’. When used for short periods by Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire Police, in each county over 300 weapons were handed in. These schemes are often used alongside media campaigns to raise awareness of the risks and consequences of carrying knives or becoming involved in violence. These might involve advertising on TV, billboards or social media.

The Youth Endowment Fund summarised research from here in the UK and abroad to see if these approaches work to reduce violent crime. In both cases, the charity found too few reliable evaluations to show any clear positive impact.

Two UK studies – in London and Glasgow – did suggest that knife surrender schemes may contribute to a small reduction in weapon-related offences. However, the effects didn’t last long and other factors, such as the police’s use of stop and search and increased presence on the streets, may also have contributed to the reduction.

In the few UK evaluations available on the impact of media campaigns, there were instances where – against the intention of the campaign – young people became potentially more likely to carry a knife. When asked about campaign images of knives, young people actually said that it increased the perceived threat, which meant they felt a greater need to protect themselves.

Jon Yates, Executive Director, Youth Endowment Fund said: “Do amnesty bins and hard-hitting media campaigns make our children safer? It looks pretty unclear that they do. Until we know more, we need to spend public money on the things that have the greatest chance of saving our children’s lives.”

Knife surrender schemes  and media campaigns are the latest strands to be added to the Youth Endowment Fund’s Toolkit. The free online resource ranks different approaches to reducing serious youth violence according to its impact, the quality of the available evidence and its cost. Approaches ranked as having a ‘High’ impact on preventing serious violence and are backed by strong evidence, include focused deterrence, cognitive behaviour therapy and social skills training.

Visit the YEF Toolkit to find out more about what works to prevent youth violence –