Superintendent Damon Solley leads Operation Jemock, a West Yorkshire Police crackdown on serious violence and knife crime.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation last year, it was business as usual for operational officers targeting ‘hotspot areas’ of Leeds with patrols, weapons sweeps and stop and searches.
The Yorkshire Evening Post’s Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is shining a light on the impact of knife crime across the city, looking at ways to prevent an upsurge in incidents as restrictions are eased.
Police figures, released to the YEP following a Freedom of Information Act request, show all crimes involving a sharp implement in Leeds fell by 15 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Robberies involving a sharp implement saw a year-on-year drop of 28.5 per cent, with 142 fewer knife crime offences in the 12 months to March 2021 compared to the previous year.
Police have been aided by lockdown restrictions, Supt Solley said, enabling them to engage with people in a more “streamlined” way.
But as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, how will Operation Jemlock prepare for an influx of people back on the street?
“Jemlock will continue as it does”, Supt Solley told the YEP.
“We have a tried and tested way that we know works, by being in the right place at the right time and having those dedicated resources to tackling knife crime.
“The sheer number of fewer offences that we’ve seen across Leeds is quite remarkable and we’re really proud that we’ve been able to play some part in that.”
When coronavirus restrictions were lifted last July, knife crime rose by 25 per cent across England and Wales over the following three months.
Supt Solley said the easing of restrictions will “inevitably” lead to an increase in offences of violence, but he is not expecting to see a significant upsurge in knife crime in West Yorkshire.
He added: “When restrictions were eased last summer, we had a slight increase in offences of violence - but we didn’t see a huge increase as some other areas of the country unfortunately experienced.
“We won’t change what we do, but policing in general will adapt and boost patrols with the reopening of bars, restaurants and, later, the nightclubs.”
Operation Jemlock officers have seized a range of weapons from people in Leeds, from blades stolen from kitchens or purchased in hardware stores, to sinister ‘zombie’ and ‘rambo’ knives imported from abroad.
There are a whole host of complex reasons why people pick up one of these weapons, Supt Solley said.
Young people in particular may be involved in gangs, they may be pressured by older people or influenced by the environment they grew up in.
“Some young people think that they need to carry a weapon for ‘protection’”, Supt Solley added.
“It’s unfortunate because if you’re carrying a knife, that massively increases the chances of you being injured by that very knife.
“It’s never the right thing to do, it’s never the right option.”
Operation Jemlock will continue its hotspot patrols and targeted policing as Leeds reopens its economy.
But with young people returning to their pre-lockdown lives, Supt Solley said it was vital that parents and teachers listen out for signs that young people are involved in gang activity.
Supt Solley said: “Everybody has a part to play to look for the signs that young people are being drawn into that particular life.
“It’s a collective effort on the part of the whole entire community to prevent young people from picking up a weapon in the first place.
“That’s the only way that we’re going to see long term reductions in incidents of violence like this.”
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