Bases see no participation in U.K. knife amnesty program
June 14, 2006
RAF MILDENHALL — Thousands of knives have been handed in to authorities across England since a highly visible campaign was launched May 24 to reduce knife-related crimes. None of those knives came from the local U.S. bases.
The five-week knife amnesty allows citizens to turn knives and edged weapons over to police without fear of prosecution, as some U.S. cities do with handguns.
At the local American bases, where Ministry of Defence police have put out red bins for knife collection, so far not a single blade has been turned in, said Mildenhall MOD community liaison officer Police Constable Paul Glover.
In contrast, in the first week of the nationwide program, 84 knives were turned over in Suffolk County, home to RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, mostly in the form of “domestic” or kitchen knives, according to police.
Next door in Norfolk County, 505 were given to police by June 1, and Cambridgeshire authorities collected 212 in the first seven days of the amnesty.
The low visibility of the on-base collection points — a single red garbage bin has been set at the main gate of both Lakenheath and Mildenhall — might have something to do with it, he said.
Other reasons for low participation, community members said, are that Americans know little about knife-carrying laws in England, and generally don’t think of knives as a major threat.
“Being American probably does that to you,” said Kristi Jensen, an employee at The Spanish Gift Shop at RAF Mildenhall. Raised in a culture where gun crime is considered the most pervasive mortal threat, Jensen and fellow employee Kelly Carpenter said they just don’t view knives with the same eye as many English citizens.
Even Tech. Sgt. Joe Aylsworth from RAF Lakenheath, who has two children in British high schools, said knife crime isn’t an overwhelming concern for his family.
Aylsworth said his kids realize most of the kids at their school carry knives.
“They realize kids get picked on, so they kind of feel they need that,” he said.
Local residents may draw comfort from the fact that, as a largely rural area bordered by bigger towns, knife crime in the immediate area is low.
Glover said he has “not known any” stabbing or slashing incidents to have occurred at Lakenheath or Mildenhall in recent years.
But that’s not the case everywhere in Britain, where highly restrictive gun laws make knives, swords and bladed weapons prevalent in violent crime. Those weapons are used in close to 30 percent of the nation’s homicides.
Firearms, by contrast, were used in 8 percent of homicides in the 2004/2005 period covered by a recent crime report generated by the government’s Home Office.
Knives also have been used in the recent spate of fatal stabbings that hit the country in the past month, which have helped renew calls for government action.
Back on the American bases, Aylsworth, Carpenter and Jensen all said they have knives in their homes that would be illegal to carry in public in Britain, though they didn’t plan to hand them in. In England, it’s legal to keep blades of most lengths in your home or business, but illegal to take them out in public.
Aylsworth, however, said he has at least partially adopted the British outlook on knives and blades, and views the antique swords he has in his house in that light.
“I almost think of them now as if I had guns in the house,” he said.
What’s illegal when it comes to knives
When it comes to knowing the laws concerning carrying a knife in England, there’s one good rule of thumb you can use, said Ministry of Defence Police Constable Paul Glover: “Nobody should have a knife with them in a public place.”
That being said, there are exceptions, Glover said. The only knife you can legally carry with you in public is a folding knife with a blade of less than three inches long, such as many Swiss army knives, he said.
Knives with locking blades, those with three-inch or longer or serrated blades, even multi-tools with locking blades, all are technically illegal outside of your home, Glover said.
Larger blades, such as decorative swords and some martial arts equipment, are also illegal to bring out in public, he said, noting one major caveat: Under English statute, bases such as RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath are not considered “public.”
It’s also on those bases that servicemembers can buy large, unsharpened swords and razor-sharp hunting and utility knives with blades running out to 3.75 inches — a fact that doesn’t sit well with MOD police.
“We don’t think they should be sold on base,” Glover said. Other no-nos: mace, brass knuckles, throwing stars, batons, butterfly knives and disguised blades. All are considered offensive weapons and illegal wherever they are in England.
The only excuses for having a knife on you in public is if you need it to perform your job, Glover said.
“If you’ve got no reason to have it, you’re committing an offense,” he said.
— Ben Murray