UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science


Evaluating new legislation piloted to help prevent knife-enabled violence

17 August 2021

University College London (UCL), working jointly with the University of Cambridge, were recently asked to assess the impact of the new Knife Crime Prevention Orders

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has begun piloting new legislation intended to help prevent knife-enabled violence. A Knife Crime Prevention Order (KCPO) is a new civil order that may be imposed on any person aged 12 or over who is known to be regularly carrying a knife or who is sentenced upon conviction of a knife-related offence.

It is hoped KCPOs will enable the police and partner agencies to identify, intervene and divert people at risk of becoming serious offenders away from being further drawn into violence. Those under an order can be prevented from associating with certain people, restricted from specific geographical areas, or set curfews. KCPOs will also include positive requirements such as attendance at educational courses, life skills programmes, participation in group sports, drug rehabilitation and anger management classes.

The MPS, who were instrumental in the development of the legislation, will pilot KCPOs for 14 months. The ambition is to introduce the orders across all police forces in the UK, subject to the results of the pilot.

A team of UCL researchers based at the Institute for Global City Policing have partnered with the MPS, the University of Cambridge and other criminal justice stakeholders to collect data using surveys and semi-structured interviews from a sample of participants who have been given a KCPO. Specifically, we will:

  1. Conduct an 18 month qualitative longitudinal evaluation of the KCPO pilot in London;
  2. Evaluate the evidence of the benefits and strengths of any impact of KCPOs on offending and recidivism in the 13-25-year-old group; and 
  3. Consider the risk that KCPOs might fail to inhibit, or even promote, offending.

Research participants will be interviewed at set time points: when the court applies the KCPO, at the mid-point, and at removal of the KCPO. As part of the outcome evaluation being managed by the University of Cambridge ¬¬– which will examine whether KCPOs actually have the intended crime-reducing effect – participants will be randomised by the MPS into an experimental group who receive a KCPO and a control group who do not. The UCL team will interview only those who receive an order. Surveys and interviews will seek to cast light on how and why KCPOs might have an effect on recipient’s offending, recidivism, and their broader attitudes and law-related behaviours. Amongst other areas, we will collect data on:

  1. Participants judgements about their own risks of re-offending;
  2. Criminal attitudes and values towards knife crime;
  3. The relevance of criminal peers;
  4. Employment;
  5. Education;
  6. Alcohol and drugs misuse;
  7. Problem solving / impulsive behaviour; and
  8. Motivation and confidence to comply with the KCPO

The UCL team brings together academics with experience researching police powers and tactics, the policing of marginalized populations, and police-community relations. Assessing how the effect of KCPOs unfolds over time, through a rigorous evaluation process, will reveal the impact of the orders on those subject to them. We will explore whether and how this new legislation can prevent young people from committing knife crime offences.

Importantly, we will address all the implications of the programme, positive and negative. If KCPOs don’t work, we want to know why. And we are open to the idea that they might have a backfire effect, promoting rather inhibiting offending, either in general or in specific cases. For example, if those subject to an order find the process unfair, illegitimate and/or oppressive, this may increase their chances of re-offending.

Among other things, this project represents an all too unusual effort to properly evaluate a new criminal justice policy. While the MPS and other partners clearly hope KCPOs will work as intended, we have been impressed by their readiness not only to evaluate the programme but also to consider that it may not, in fact, have the desired effect. Too often criminal justice policies are ‘doomed to succeed’ – positive outcomes are declared irrespective of what actually transpires. This has not thus far been the case with KCPOs, which is our view a very welcome development.

Notes for editors: The Institute for Global City Policing (IGCP) is an independent research institute located within the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at UCL. The IGCP is funded by UCL, MOPAC and the MPS to conduct policing research in London.