The Metropolitan Police has quietly reduced the number of knife images shared on its social media pages by half amid growing evidence that it causes harm.
Between July 2020 and August 2021, the Met shared more than 2,000 images of knives to its various social media accounts following seizures and knife amnesties. In the following 12 months, the Met shared 1,060 knife images according to new research from the City Hall Greens.
Green Party London Assembly Member Caroline Russell has called on the Met to stop sharing knife images altogether following research from Sheffield Hallam University which found that doing so can cause unnecessary fear about knife crime and violence.
Testimony from young people in London gathered by the Violence Reduction Unit earlier this year revealed that knife images shared by police can even be used as “intelligence” about what types of weapons are being carried in certain areas by people caught up in violence.
Police forces across the country including Thames Valley and West Midlands have already taken the decision to stop sharing images of seized knives on social media following the growing body of evidence that it has a negative impact.
London’s Violence Reduction Unit is currently undertaking its own research into the effects of sharing knife images online, which could shape Met policy moving forward.
But Caroline Russell has said the research is facing “delay after delay” and called on the Met to “stop sharing these images altogether”.
She said: “The drop in the number of knife images shared by the Met shows that the voices of young people, knife harm reduction charities, and academics, who are rightly critical of these images, may have been heard.
“There is no consistent communications policy across the MPS on sharing knife images, so I am calling for the Met to listen to the evidence that already exists and create a policy to stop sharing these images altogether, as it is clear they are doing more harm than good.”
A spokesperson for the Met said the force’s “number one priority” is “tackling violence in all its forms and taking potentially lethal weapons off the streets”.
The spokesperson added that, when used “appropriately”, sharing images of knives and other weapons “highlights the seriousness of the challenge and how we are tackling it”.
They said: “We welcome the ongoing debate around the sharing of images of knives by police on social media. While some believe it is necessary to show them, others feel it may encourage some to carry knives.
“There are several ongoing academic studies examining the potential impact of the publication of these images. We are waiting for their findings before considering any change in our procedures.”