Insufficient evidence of impact
What is it?
Knife surrender schemes, also called ‘weapon amnesties’ or ‘knife amnesties’, aim to remove weapons from the street by providing bins or collection points where people can drop them off. Collection points are typically placed in easily accessible locations like supermarkets, high streets or police stations. Most of the weapons surrendered to schemes are knives but schemes have also collected real and imitation firearms and ammunition, swords, crossbows, CS canisters (riot gas), knuckledusters and tasers.
Schemes will often allow people to drop off weapons anonymously and guarantee that there will be no immediate repercussions at the point of handover. However, some schemes can inspect weapons later to identify any connection with criminal offences and then pursue investigation or prosecution if a link is found. Compensation or ‘buyback’ schemes offer payments for weapons handed in. The payments can range from £3 for a knuckleduster or £20 for a truncheon to over £5,000 for a rifle.
Knife surrender schemes may be delivered alongside other activities such as:
- Awareness campaigns, including reminders about the list of weapons that are illegal for private possession, and the risks and consequences of carrying weapons;
- Education and training related to knife crime; and
- Police initiatives in areas with higher rates of weapon use, such as hot spots policing, increased use of stop and search, actively monitored CCTV and street lighting.
Recent examples of knife surrender schemes include:
- Lincolnshire Police placed knife surrender bins in several towns for anonymous drop off. In total 315 weapons were handed in, including various knives, machetes, knuckledusters, an imitation firearm, a crossbow, two shotguns and an air rifle.
- Gloucestershire Police ran a two-week programme that saw over 300 knives handed in and a small number of guns.
- Word 4 Weapons, a charity that organises knife bins linked to churches, have installed bins across London. They also deliver knife crime awareness training for practitioners and young volunteers.
Knife surrender schemes are used as a violence prevention measure based on assumptions that they reduce the number of weapons available for use in violent incidents. They are often used alongside other violence prevention initiatives, such as media campaigns or education programmes. However, critics of knife surrender schemes suggest three reasons why they might fail to prevent violence. Firstly, they are unlikely to reduce the availability of knives, which are so easily replaced. Secondly, knife surrender schemes without additional interventions such as education or training, do not address motivations for carrying a weapon. Finally, knife surrender schemes, particularly those involving media campaigns, could increase public concern about violence, leading to more individuals carrying weapons for self-defence.
Is it effective?
There are only a small number of evaluations on the impact of knife surrender schemes on violent crime. There is insufficient evidence to calculate an impact rating.
Two studies in the UK suggest that knife surrender schemes may contribute to a small reduction in weapon-related offences during the period of the amnesty, but those reductions are not sustained for long.
Analysis of police-recorded crime data in London found that knife-related offences declined for five weeks following the scheme, but the rate returned to pre-scheme levels after eight weeks. The scheme was delivered at the same time as other interventions and media awareness campaigns so it is difficult to isolate the impact of the scheme from these other activities.
Similarly in Glasgow, analysis showed the number of individuals presenting to emergency departments with serious stab wounds declined up to ten months after the scheme but returned to pre-scheme levels after one year. This scheme was also delivered alongside multiple other interventions and media campaigns, so it is difficult to isolate its impact.
How secure is the evidence?
There is insufficient evidence to calculate an impact rating for the impact of knife surrender schemes on violence. There is only a very small number of evaluations with weak designs.
How can you implement it well?
The research suggests location is likely to be an important consideration. Schemes should select collection points that are easily accessible, are in areas with a higher number of weapon-related incidents, and where it is easy to protect the anonymity of people surrendering weapons, for example by having no CCTV.
Schemes should minimise the risk of causing harm by provoking a fearful response and the perception that carrying a knife is required for self-defence. It is also important to consider and mitigate the potential for weapons bins to have a stigmatising effect for local communities.
How much does it cost?
Currently we do not have enough evidence to provide a headline cost rating.
The costs are likely to be low, on the basis that the core intervention involves provision of a secure bin and staffing to empty and safely dispose of weapons. Some knife surrender schemes include investigation work to identify if weapons have been used in crimes, which would incur further costs. Knife surrender schemes that involve large scale media campaigns will cost more.
- Knife surrender schemes, or “weapon amnesties” aim to remove weapons from the street through the provision of ‘no questions asked’ weapon bins or collection points.
- There are very few evaluations of the impact of knife surrender schemes or weapons amnesties on violent crime. There is not enough evidence to produce an overall impact rating.
- Two studies suggest that knife surrender schemes may reduce weapon-related incidents during the period of the scheme and for weeks or months after, but that the effects are not sustained.
- Knife surrender schemes may be more successful when they are delivered alongside other interventions, such as education that can address motivations for weapon-carrying and police initiatives that provide a deterrence effect.
College of Policing: Evidence briefing on knife crime
College of Policing briefing on knife crime.
College of Policing: A problem solving guide to knife crime
College of Policing guide to addressing knife crime.
Metropolitan Police 2006 Knife Amnesty Evaluation
Metropolitan Police report on Operation Blunt: Knife Amnesty Impact on Knife-Enabled Offences.