London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) has called on the Metropolitan Police to stop posting images of confiscated knives and weapons on social media, after finding these can trigger fear in young people and lead some to locate more dangerous weapons to protect themselves.
The researchby London’s VRU, commissioned by University College London, found that seeing images of knives and dangerous weapons posted by police on social media can have a detrimental effect on young people’s sense of safety.
According to Louisa Rolfe, the Met’s assistant police commissioner, the force has always shared these images to “highlight the work of our officers and their good results”.
She said: “It helped reassure communities that the Met is committed to targeting those who bear arms and fueling violence on our streets.”
However, peer-led surveys and workshops conducted by London’s VRU Youth Action Group with young people aged 12 to 25 found that more than half of the young people consulted felt unsafe, scared and worried after seeing images of knives posted online by police.
More than half of young people surveyed also felt that their families and communities would be scared or frightened after seeing such images.
Some young people also admitted they would be more likely to carry a knife after seeing images of confiscated guns online.
A youth said: “If I see someone carrying something horrible in my area and I only carry a knife… what do you think I will do?
The research found that although there was little evidence that viewing these images had any effect on young people’s attitudes towards knives, the authors suggested that this could be due to young people being desensitized to the imagery of knives. The researchers recommended further investigation to gather the perspectives of young people who are already impacted by knife carrying or violent crime.
Workshops organized by the Youth Action Group have further indicated that seeing images of confiscated knives or weapons can trigger knife trauma in some young people.
Group member Jade Barnett said: “Although research has shown there was little effect, what it suggests and has been backed up by surveys and workshops directly with young people is that that some young people – myself included – have been desensitized to seeing images of knives.
“It’s worrying to know that young people see this as normal. What the sessions with young people revealed is that there is a negative impact, based on fear and trauma, for a small group of young people who are already too close to violence. Why would anyone want to try to subject these young people to other traumas? »
In the workshops, young people added that they supported police efforts to combat violence and remove dangerous weapons, but there was consensus that the police should focus on promoting the good work that ‘she does with communities and young people, rather than posting pictures of confiscated weapons.
One youngster said: ‘The Met constantly tells us there are knives here which normalizes it more as our reality.
The VRU has urged police to stop posting images of confiscated knives and weapons on social media because of the impact it has on some young people and wider communities.
The organization and its youth action group added that they wanted to work alongside the police to support further visual demonstrations of its work with young people and communities.
Young people involved in the research came up with a series of recommendations to emphasize police efforts to make communities safer, including talking to offices and organizing events with young people.
Police forces in Thames Valley, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands have already taken similar approaches, after deciding to stop posting images of confiscated knives on social media.
Lib Peck, Director of VRU London, said: “Listening to the voices of young people is an integral part of our approach to tackling violence, which is rooted in prevention and early intervention.
“What is clear is that while for the vast majority of young people we interviewed seeing images of knives online has little effect, the impact for a smaller group of young people likely to be affected by violence goes much deeper.
“Research and peer-led workshops and surveys have demonstrated that our young people have become desensitized to the sight on social media of images of large knives confiscated where they live. This really cannot be right or acceptable in society.
“We know this is the exact opposite of what the police want, who share our determination to tackle violence and make our communities safer for all Londoners. It is important that we listen to our young people and act now to stop posting images.
Rolfe added: “We appreciate the involvement of young Londoners in the important and ongoing debate around the sharing of knife images on social media. We look forward to working with the Youth Action Group, understanding their recommendations and how it might affect our communications around knife crime.
“We are an evidence-driven organization, and that extends to how we communicate with Londoners. We look forward to reviewing the results of this research and engaging with our communities, which will inform our approach moving forward.