Published: 12:54, 06 March 2019
| Updated: 14:56, 06 March 2019
Kent has seen the fastest rise in knife crime in the entire country, official figures reveal.
The number of offences has soared by 152% since 2011 from 346 to 873, equating to 48 crimes per 100,000 people, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The only other force experiencing close to that increase was West Yorkshire where in 2011 there was only one offence but last year there were three.
At the other end of the spectrum neighbouring Sussex police dealt with 12% less offences last year than in 2011.
But figures obtained by KentOnline last summer showed the actual number of offences in the county could be higher still.
Kent Police data showed knife crime had more than doubled in five years, with 1,322 incidents reported in the 2017-18 financial year.
Almost half of reported cases happened in Kent's northern division, which includes Dartford, Gravesham, Medway and Swale.
Overall the figures show offences have been rising throughout England and Wales for five years.
But last year numbers reached a peak, with crimes involving knives or sharp instruments, such as scissors or razor blades, soaring by 8% to 39,818 compared to 36,776 the previous year.
Back in 2014 there were 23,945 offences.
Of the 44 police forces 39 had seen a rise since 2011.
In London, the knife crime capital, rates rose by 11%. Last year 35% of all the city's crime was knife related, with 168 offences per 100,000 people.
Since 2011 Kent Police's work force and funding both fell by 17%, that compares to a national average of 18% and 19% respectively.
But this week Prime Minister Theresa May, who presided over swinging police cuts while Home Secretary, denied any link between a fall in police numbers and a rise in knife crime.
But speaking last night on KMTV Professor Alex Stevens, an expert in criminal justice from the University of Kent, said: "One of the problems with tackling violent crime and particularly knife crime is that we just don't know what the causes are and there's two reasons for that.
"One is that the government has failed to fund research and the other is that the research it has carried out it has kept quiet.
"It leaked a report last April which suggested there was a link between falling police numbers and a rise in violent crime but they have failed to release the full report so that we can see what's in it as they think it would be bad for 'good governance'."
Alex Stevens, professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent, talks about the knife crime crisis
Hospital admissions resulting from assault with a sharp object also increased since 2017. Last year there were 4,986 admissions across the UK, a 15% rise.
The overwhelming majority of those patients were men but in the five years to last March the number of children treated rose from 318 to 573.
The figures also show the courts are getting tougher on offenders, more and more of whom are underage.
Last year 20% (4,459) of offenders were aged between 10 and 17, 69% more than in 2013.
In that period 36% of all offenders went to jail and a further 18% got suspended sentences, with the average time for prison terms increasing by three months to eight months in the last decade.
Ministry of Justice figures released earlier this year revealed the number of criminals in Kent convicted or cautioned for knife crime, after previously being caught carrying a blade, has increased by more than a third over the last three years.
Kent Police took action against 504 people in the 12 months to September 2018, either for possession of a knife as a weapon or threatening someone with one.
Of those, 127, or 25%, had at least one previous offence for carrying a knife, and 21 of the criminals had three or more past offences.
That figure has increased since 2014-15, when just 94 of those successfully prosecuted had reoffended. Police bosses say this could be down to improved identification techniques.
Deputy Chief Constable Tony Blaker from Kent Police said: "In Kent we have seen an increase in the number of offences involving a knife or sharp instrument and while this can look concerning it is important to note these crimes range from criminal damage or threats being made to grievous bodily harm involving a sharp instrument such as a knife, razor, dart or other sharp instrument and these do not always result in injury.
"Officers have and continue to take a proactive approach in targeting, arresting and prosecuting people who carry knives or sharp instruments which has played a part in contributing to this increase. As a force we regularly take part in the national Operation Sceptre – a campaign to reduce knives on the streets - which has been successful in identifying and arresting those who carry weapons.
"We have worked hard on education and intervention in the last year with officers, Police Community Support Officers and volunteer police cadets regularly visiting schools, colleges and youth clubs to encourage young people to make better life choices."
The force did not answer a question on whether there was a link between falling resources and rising crime.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent Matthew Scott said: "It is absolutely vital that we all work together - police chiefs, PCCs, the Home Office, the criminal justice system and other agencies - to join up efforts more effectively to tackle the root causes and take action against the perpetrators."
Recommendations will be published soon following a meeting last year between agencies from across the county which looked at violent crime and what should be done about it.
Mr Scott added: "Kent is a safe place to live, work and visit, but that does not mean that we are without our challenges. Our proximity to London, and the criminal activity being exported from the capital through organised crime and county lines, is something Kent Police is tackling.
"If there is analysis which shows whether there is or isn’t a link between officer numbers and violent crime then it should be published. But, personally, I never backed budget reductions. Our ongoing recruitment drive in Kent means that by March 2020 we will be back to 96% of the strength we had when police officer numbers started falling in 2009."
He pointed to various projects such as Refocus in north Kent and the St Giles Trust in the east of the county which are being funded by his office and are aimed at reducing violent offending among young people.