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At the sharp edge of the fight against Knife Crime

The Principle One team always look forward to hosting work experience students who are keen to learn more about career opportunities within technology and working with our public sector customers. This year, Josh, Rohan and Ryder joined us in Vauxhall from Kew House School in west London and we set them the task of exploring a growing threat that they and our customers face, particularly knife crime and its impact on teenage victims.


In 2023, nearly 50,000 police-recorded offences involved knives or sharp instruments, marking a 7% increase from 2022. Among these offences, 20,000 were robberies and 244 were homicides[1].


This increase in knife crime has a significant impact on teenagers. According to the Office of National Statistics, the majority of teenage homicide victims (82%) were killed with a knife or sharp object, which is a much higher percentage compared to victims of all age groups (41%). In the year 2023, a total of 78 individuals under the age of 25 were fatally stabbed, including 10 children under 16.


Despite these alarming statistics, knife crime remains underreported, especially within UK gang culture. Young people face numerous barriers that prevent them from reporting incidents. Many lack trust and confidence in the police and feel unsupported by social services and youth offending teams. Additionally, fear of repercussions and feelings of being misunderstood contribute to their silence. Adding to these challenges are a lack of awareness about what constitutes a crime[2] and limited knowledge on how to report it.


Over the two-week work experience period, we asked our three students to explore the challenges our customers face in investigating this crime type and, from their perspective, why teenage victims or witnesses are so often reluctant to come forward. Building on this theme, we asked them to think about what would make it easier for them to report an incident and how we would use technology to help police forces investigate knife crime offences.


To enable them to make meaningful progress in the space of two short weeks, we ran some short training sessions from our core graduate training programme, tailored and focused on the use case of knife crime. This included agile project management training to introduce new ways of working at a fast pace and working as a team, an introduction to business analysis to help break down the problem and how to design a solution and finally hands on technical training with Microsoft PowerApps and PowerBI to build a low code prototype. They were also briefed by former Detective Constable Gabbie Mahal around the policing perspective before recent graduate Esther Oluwaseye began guiding them through their first job as consultants – to come up with a solution that would improve the rate of reporting for knife crime among their peer group.


The project focused on developing a mobile app for victims to report knife-related crimes without having to call the police directly. The app will allow users to record incidents and capture their exact location automatically. It will also share this data with the police, display incident locations on a map, and provide guidance on reporting crimes and accessing support from charities, local youth groups, and medical services.


To accelerate development, the team were introduced to the Microsoft PowerPlatform technology stack, using a range of different database and development tools to develop an app to capture data, store it centrally and harness Microsoft PowerBI’s data visualisation tools to enable police forces to visualise and analyse trends in the data.


For Josh, applying his computing science studies to developing an app was a real highlight of the placement.  "Despite only being with Principle One for two weeks, we were able to create a full proof of concept app aimed at improving knife crime reporting. I really enjoyed the entire process of development and found it rewarding to learn a new way of software development and to then implement it. It was a challenge to get everything done and we hit some technical barriers with PowerApps, but it made us think more creatively around how we could achieve our goals. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole project. I have been able to expand on my current skills and take a lot of knowledge on how computer science is applied to real world problems."


As part of the placement, the students had the opportunity to spend a day with British Transport Police to learn more about how knife crime is investigated across the London transport eco system and support their development work.


The trip began at the British Transport Police’s (BTP) London South Area Headquarters, where students learnt around how data could be extracted from over 14,000 different devices. Students were able to observe the equipment in action and even participate in a hands-on exercise with a dummy phone download.




The next stop was BTP's Scientific Support Unit (SSU). Here, students built an understanding of the five different departments: the Digital Imaging Unit, Laboratory Services, Fingerprint Bureau, Scenes of Crime, and Digital Forensics Unit. They also visited the BTP Force Intelligence Bureau, where they learned about the role of intelligence analysts in BTP operations. Additionally, in the Digital Forensics Unit, students explored the equipment and processes involved in downloading data from both handsets and computers.


Overall, the trip provided students with valuable insights into the advanced technologies and methodologies employed by the British Transport Police in their investigative processes, sparking their interest in various fields of forensic science and intelligence analysis.  This was a highlight for Rohan, who began his placement with a strong interest in Criminology.  “The tour of British Transport Police locations around London was a valuable experience. Being able to witness the operational and intelligence analysis teams doing tasks such as fingerprint identification and handset downloads was especially exciting. Everyone at all four locations we visited was very friendly, keen to answer our questions and share insights that we could use in building our app.”


 

Returning to Principle One, the team were focused on getting a working proof of concept application ready for the end of the week and presenting their ideas. For Ryder, who was keen to learn more about data science through his placement, working to tackle an issue that is a concern to himself and his friends was really important Working at Principle One on solving a problem such as knife crime reporting was incredibly rewarding. Despite the challenges, seeing both the app and the data visualisation tools come to life showed me how I can apply maths in solving real world problems. None of it would have been possible without the support from Esther and Gabbie, who have been spectacular.”


The week wrapped up with a Boardroom presentation to staff from Principle One, Kew House School and British Transport Police. Josh, Ryder and Rohan the work they had undertaken, showcasing their business analysis and technical skills and gave an overview of their project with a demonstration of their ReportNow app and the benefits that it would offer both victims of crime and police officers working both on investigations and crime prevention. It was also a chance to reflect on the achievements of the past two weeks, exceeding all our expectations.


We would like to thank British Transport Police for providing support to our students during the placement, making the problem of knife crime real and helping focus their development work for the remainder of the placement.

 

You can learn more about reporting crime across the UK rail network using BTP's railway Guardian App here: Safest Together. Download our Railway Guardian app today. | British Transport Police (btp.police.uk)





[1] ONS 2024

[2] Beckett H & Warrington C, 2014; Pepper M, 2020




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