How Sheffield detectives are working to reduce knife crime in our city

After covering a number of knife attacks across the city, Sam Cooper sits down with Det Supt Una Jennings to look back at 2018 from a policing point of view.

Eight fatal stabbings on the streets of Sheffield in 2018 – that is an awful figure no-one can dispute or shy away from.

Det SuptUna Jennings.

Det SuptUna Jennings.

That equates to countless lives ruined – not just the victims – relatives, friends and those of the perpertrators as well – who have more often than not been young men or even boys.

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But the detective in charge of knife crime in the city at South Yorkshire Police has insisted they are now starting to see the results of work done by the force, Sheffield Council, schools and other partners.

When I put the number of fatal stabbings to Det Supt Una Jennings, the force’s lead for knife crime, she said: “I think the important bit around any reflection in relation to violent crime in Sheffield is putting it in context.

Det Supt Una Jennings.

Det Supt Una Jennings.

“We have seen a continued rise in violent and knife-enabled crime across the country and Sheffield is no different with it being the fifth largest city in the country.

“There has been a 16 per cent rise nationally in knife crime, a 12 per cent rise in reported homicides and these kind of offences tend to be in metropolitan areas.”

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But Det Supt Jennings, who has often been the senior investigating officer at a number of the fatal stabbings on the city's streets, acknowledged it had certainly been a ‘tough year’ for the force.

The scene of the murder Ryan Jowle in Woodhouse.

The scene of the murder Ryan Jowle in Woodhouse.

She added: “I think 2018 in Sheffield has been a tough year for the city, a tough year for the cops that’s been policing this city but, on the flipside, we continue to be one of the safest cities.

“We continue to be below the national averages for violent crime and we are starting to see the effects of our work. We will look back, as a city, over the last 12 months at what the pinch points were and review our approach to make sure we giving the city the police service it needs.”

Back in May, detectives and officers were left dealing with two fatal stabbings of teenagers in just three days.

Ryan Jowle, 19,  died in hospital hours after being stabbed in the chest on Tannery Close, Woodhouse, on May 23 before 15-year-old Sam Baker died in a knife attack in Lowedges.

The attacks sent shockwaves across the city as people voiced fears over how safe Sheffield's streets were and Det Supt Jennings admitted they also had an impact on officers.

She said: “We are an incredibly resilient bunch, we need to be and what I would ask from the public is a degree of appreciation for those cops who are on the beat dealing with incidents like this.

“We have wellbeing programmes for cops who are exposed to this kind of work but I suppose the most important bit it the relationship they have with each other and those they are serving.”

But with news of every stabbing, Det Supt Jennings said that only drives the officers to work even harder.

She added: “After incidents you hear the officers saying they don’t want it happening in this city. I suppose, for me, as their superintendent, it’s a huge sense of responsiblity towards them to make sure that they know they are loved because they can be affected by negative commentary sometimes.

“I feel it’s a profound sense of responsibility to get it right and feel that we have a duty to make sure our young men have better options then we were offering them.”

Det Supt Jennings stressed a lot of the knife attacks in the city this year were ‘targeted,’ and added: "There is very little random violence that you will see in this city.”

But alongside the eight fatal attacks, there have also been a number of stabbings that have caused serious or life-changing injuries.

The detective said the reasons as to why there were so many on the city's streets were ‘complex’.

She added: “We have heard things like there is an incrase in the social acceptance of carrying knives. We also know that violent crime is closely linked with drugs so there is any number of different variables but the important bit for us is having a plan on how we are going to deal with it.”

That plan is something the force - alongside Sheffield Council, schools and other agencies – have been working on for a while.

Dubbed Operation Fortify – the aim is to ensure that the no-one has to make the 999 call about a stabbing by educating teenagers across the city.

Officers have worked with colleagues in Glasgow, London and even Chicago to draw up the plan and its impact will be assessed by academics at Sheffield Hallam University.

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But Det Supt Jennings said its effects were already evident.

“Operation Fortify is showing early signs of working for us,” she said. "This is the first time in four years we have fallen below the national average for knife-enabled crime.

“It’s still in its early days but when you put it in context we are doing alright. We’ve reduced the number of organised gangs in Sheffield down from 19 to 13 because of the robust measure we have put in place.”

Summing up the new approach, the detective said: “The bottom line is when somebody is calling 999 to report a stabbing, it’s already too late.”

Looking ahead to 2019, the Belfast-born detective said the key was more of the same.

She added: “I don’t think we have ever been in a better situation as a city to make sure we protect our kids.”

THE EIGHT FATAL STABBINGS

1 – Jarvin Blake, aged 22, was the first person stabbed to death in Sheffield this year when he was attacked at the junction of Catherine Street and Brackley Street, Burngreave, at 3.20pm on March 8.

 2 – Ryan Jowle, 19, was knifed in his chest in Tannery Close Woodhouse, on  May 22.

3 – Samuel Baker, aged 15, was fatally stabbed in Lowedges Road, Lowedges, two days later – on May 24.

4 – Glenn Boardman, 59, was stabbed to death in a house in  Steven Close, Chapeltown on June 26.

5 – Kavan Brissett, 21, was knifed in his chest in an alleyway off Langsett Walk, near Upperthorpe, on August 14 and died in hospital four days later when his life support machine was switched off.

6 – Alan Grayson, 85, was stabbed during an incident at his home in Orgreave Lane, Handsworth, on September 13.

7 – Fahim Hersi, 22, from Broomhall, died after he was stabbed during a fight outside the cinema at Valley Centertainment on September 21. He was rushed to hospital with a stab wound to his chest but could not be saved.

8 – Gavin Singleton, 31, was stabbed in an attack in Walkley Lane, Hillsborough, on September 23 and lost his fight for life on October 6.