Stabbings seem to decline despite rise in knife seizures

Caution needed when interpreting data on recorded stabbing incidents and knife seizures

Knife crime: with scant research in the area, it is hard to get a firm fix on the size of the problem and whether it is worsening or not. Photograph: Getty Images

Knife crime: with scant research in the area, it is hard to get a firm fix on the size of the problem and whether it is worsening or not. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Evidence of an increase in knife crime in the Republic appears to be emerging, in the shape of more knife seizures.

But medical records, perhaps a better indicator of what’s really happening on the streets, reveal a prolonged decline in serious stabbing injuries being treated in Irish hospitals.

The truth is there insufficient evidence to show knife crime is even increasing, never mind reaching crisis levels. As is often the case in the Irish criminal justice sphere, research is badly needed, but is being promised by precisely nobody.

What we know for certain is that 164 people were recorded as being admitted to Irish hospitals last year to be treated as in-patients for “assault by knife” injuries. That’s a 40 per cent decline on the peak 269 cases seen back in 2006.

The number of serious knife assault injuries recorded in Irish hospitals last year was the lowest since at least 2005, the last year for which data was available.

What we also know for certain is that the Garda has recorded a 60 per cent increase in the number of knives seized over the past between 2016 and last year, from 1,197 to 1,936.

The HSE data captures a very clear decline for over a decade in the number of serious stabbings the Irish health service has recorded in treatment data.

Some sources said the drop in the number of serious stabbing injuries recorded by hospitals is likely because fewer people were being stabbed and seriously injured in the State.

Gardaí who spoke to The Irish Times believed stabbings were more frequent when back in the Celtic Tiger days when the economy was booming – and people were drinking more – than today, despite media coverage suggesting a growing knife culture.

Proactive policing

However, an experienced A&E medical source urged caution with the HSE data. He said overworked hospital staff may have less time now to record stabbing cases properly in official records than they did in the past.

The same caution is needed when interpreting the 60 per cent increase in the number of knives seized by the Garda last year compared with 2016.

Senior Garda officers point to the fact there are now more than 14,000 gardaí in the force, with an extra 2,700 civilians – about 4,000 more personnel than five years ago.

The Garda officers say when staffing is more plentiful, proactive policing operations can be run and there are more gardaí generally on the beat.

“When you have more gardaí out stopping and searching people you’ll find more things like drugs and knives,” said the source.

He added that some crime trends should show increases if the Garda was doing its job well and using additional resources properly.

The latest crime data appears to support his theory.

Seizures of knives and drugs – both of which must be sought out with proactive policing – are up at a time when many crime types are falling.

However, several gardaí said improvements had been made to the system of recording every knife seized. They believed at least some of the 60 per cent increase in knife seizures was attributable to better data recording.