Operation Sycamore: Tackling Knife Crime in Manchester

Operation Sycamore: Tackling Knife Crime in Manchester

Due to the surge in knife crime across Manchester in the last 5 years, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) knew that change was needed to keep their community safe.  

Since the start of Operation Sycamore in 2018, and since the formation of alliances with Wish.com, Royal Mail and the Forever Amnesty project, GMP have seen a significant decrease in knife related offences. Three years since their initial call to arms, the vision of GMP going forward is to take an intervention-based approach and begin tackling the factors that turn young people to crime. 

  • In 2018, there were a record 6,196 knife related crimes committed across Manchester 
  • After receiving funding from the Home Office, the GMP implemented several strategies to tackle the rise in crime, including the creation of knife amnesty bins and the introduction of the Violence Reduction Unit 
  • Moving forward, GMP aim to enforce consistent youth interventions across the city and work with officers to understand the impact of trauma and childhood experiences 

The Challenge 

Between 2015 and 2018, incidences of knife crime increased nationally by 45%. Within Greater Manchester there was a rise of 89%, with 6,196 knife related incidents in 2018 alone [1].  

A notable case within the Manchester community was the fatal stabbing of Yousef Makki in Hale Barns in 2019, which highlighted the rise in offences committed by young people between 15-19 years old. [2] Following this, it became even more important to find out who the knife carriers were, where they were getting these weapons and when they were carrying them. 

The increase in knife crime was largely attributed to ease of access, the rise in possession and the amplification of conflict and violence via social media. In order to tackle these factors head on, GMP were one of 18 forces to receive funding from the Home Office to help reduce the serious violence taking place across the city. 

The Solution 

Equipped with Government funding and support, GMP began working on multiple targets in their fight against knife crime.  

Operation Sycamore  
  • Firstly, GMP set up Operation Sycamore in 2018 which set out to: 
  • Tackle and raise awareness of knife crime • Target young people and explain the consequences of getting involved in violent crime 
  • Reduce the number of hospital admissions in relation to knife incidents 

The whole operation was a partnership between GMP, youth services and education leads, forming a community-led approach to prevention and early intervention. Partners worked with schools to increase awareness of the consequences of getting involved in violent crime, identifying and working with young people at risk, and developing a community-led approach to prevention and early intervention. Additionally, a significant social media campaign was rolled out to support of changing behaviours amongst young people. 

The Operation Concept (Op Concept) 

From 2-5th December 2019, the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) coordinated a week-long crackdown on knife crime with police officers from Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and North Wales. 

During the week, over 100 cease and desist letters were issued across the North West. These notices aimed to educate potential buyers of illegal knives and discourage further offending. 

Working alongside the Royal Mail and NW ROCU weapons were also intercepted within the postal system with officers attending sorting offices. Within the first two hours of checking, 180 offensive weapons were seized. The potential purchasers of the weapons were then interviewed to find out why they were ordering them.  

GMP ran this operation again between Monday 11 May and Tuesday 30 June. This targeted activity resulted in the seizure of 98 illegal weapons and nine arrests [3]. 

The Violence Reduction Unit 

The Violence Reduction Unit was formed in 2019. Its intention to bring together police, local authorities, youth services, health providers, schools and other criminal justice partners to tackle serious violence. This largely involved police carrying out targeted enforcement activity to seize weapons, intercept the illegal purchase of weapons and provide reassurance to communities affected by violent crime. 

A Pause Policing programme was introduced in which officers had designated areas for Stop and Searches conducted by both visible and undercover police. They also conducted weapons sweeps to understand where people might be hiding them (eg: outside probation centres where weapons are dropped before entering). While the aim was to mainly engage with young people and explain to them the possible consequences of carrying a knife, the searches resulted in over 1000 weapons being seized. 

Partnership with Wish 

A Hidden Knives campaign was also set up by the VRU with the slogan ‘Open Your Eyes to Knives’. Visitors to GMP’s social media accounts were asked to spot the knife hidden in a number of images across a special awareness week. The aim here was to highlight how easy these weapons are to conceal and how prevalent they are within the community.  

When looking to the sourcing of weapons in the area, a major source appeared to be an online site called Wish.com.   

After starting a dialogue between the VRU and Wish, there was a block put in place on the searching of knives on the site across the UK. Along with publicising the initiative and gaining local TV coverage, knives imported into the North West began to reduce.  

Forever Amnesty 

The Op Concept showed that knife amnesty bins had led to the removal of significant numbers of knives from the streets (500 in one week in Oct 2019). In response, a Forever Amnesty programme was set up that made collection bins permanently available from December 2019 allowing people to dispose of their knives safely. A total of 14 amnesty bins were set up in the community and two were placed in the reception at HMP Manchester [2]. 

Maps of amnesty bin locations were shared via Twitter (23,292 impressions) and Facebook (80, 317 impressions). There were also a series of immersive adverts across a 4-week period via an audio campaign on Global radio. The campaign involved a five-part story targeted at young people between aged 16-24, encouraging them to hand in weapons across those hot spot areas[2].  

Map of Knife Amnesty locations across Manchester [4] 

The Impact 

The operations set up by GMP proved to be very successful and have led to many positive outcomes for the city. 

From April to June 2019 there was a 23% reduction in incidences of knife crime compared to the previous year, with the recovery of more than 2,500 weapons [2].  

As of September 2020, 1500 weapons had been put into the Forever Amnesty bins and 482 weapons were intercepted in the postal system [2]. 

In addition, there were over 3000 student anti-knife crime inputs online and 243 arrests for possession of weapons [2]. 

In just over a year, there have been some clear measurable improvements Greater Manchester:  

  • 17% reduction in crimes involving knives and sharp instruments 
  • 15% reduction in robbery and personal property offences 
  • 4% reduction in possession of weapon offences 
  • 38% reduction in non-domestic homicide offences 
  • 23% reduction in non-domestic homicides where the victim is 24 or younger [2] 

The Future 

While GMP’s initiatives have undoubtedly paved a safer way for communities across Manchester, they have already begun looking to the future. When speaking with Campaign and Engagement leader, Rebecca Statham, and Detective Inspector Roger Edwards, they outlined the steps they are planning on taking next.  

These steps include; 

  • Consistent integrated youth justice interventions through Greater Manchester – looking at how to help the cause, as well as implementing punitive actions 
  • Merging and mapping multi-agency data (with overlaid heat maps) 
  • Ensuring the Police Force are trauma informed – launching a pilot scheme to train officers to recognise and understand the impact of adverse childhood experiences and how to refer individuals to other agencies 
  • School exclusion protocols to reduce the risk of young people being left in limbo when making decisions and becoming at risk of drifting into gang culture 
  • Community designed local solutions in six areas, finding out how solutions can be designed to suit a community’s needs  

After reducing the number of knives on the streets GMP are looking to roll out the initiative to include more offensive weapons, for example: CS gas, tasers, knuckledusters, and batons. This will involve continued work with Wish.com in reducing accessibility to such weapons for anyone in the UK. 

Reflecting on the success of their initiatives over the last 2 years GMP want to keep up the momentum. 

Ultimately, the goal is to rid communities in Manchester of the fear and violence that comes with knife crime. Until then, GMP will continue exploring every avenue of intervention and crime reduction. 

[1] Innovationunit.org [Accessed 26 January 2021] 

[2] Rebecca Statham and Roger Edwards, Gang Crime, September 2020 

[3] Gmp.police.uk. 2020. Greater Manchester Police seize almost 100 weapons across Greater Manchester [Accessed 26 January 2021] 

[4] Gmp.police.uk. 2019. 12 Amnesty Bins Located Across Greater Manchester. [Accessed 26 January 2021]