‘Raise the alarm’: Knife crime surge worrying youth workers who say kids casually carrying weapons

Youth advocates fear a rise in knife crime among young people this summer will cause bloodshed on Melbourne’s streets, with children as young as 10 reporting to social workers that they’re carrying knives to and from home, fearing they will be attacked by armed suburban gangs.

The warning comes as new figures from the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit show at least one person a day in Victoria is being hospitalised from a knife attack, with the number of incidents soaring more than 60 per cent since 2015.

Youth Activating Youth Executive Director Ahmed Hassan.Credit:Tash Sorensen

Police have also seized a record number of bladed weapons under sweeping powers that allow them to stop and search people without a warrant.

Youth Activating Youth co-founder Ahmed Hassan, who was recently recognised as Victoria’s Young Australian of the Year for his work with young people, is urging parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of carrying a knife, with new data also revealing almost 16,000 weapons offences were recorded in the year to July 2021, the highest on record.

“What’s happening right now is this issue is getting out of control and we need to raise the alarm bells and before the summer school holidays when the weather will be warming up,” Mr Hassan said.

“This issue is getting out of control and we must take urgent precautions.”

The warning comes just days after Victoria Police’s gang crime squad arrested and charged six people, one as young as 15, over a crime spree that included an attempted carjacking, stabbing and aggravated burglary at St Albans.

Weeks earlier, a 24-year-old Brunswick East man was stabbed to death at St Kilda beach as the city began to emerge from its most recent lockdown.

And a frenzied stabbing at Barkly Square shopping centre prompted Woolworths to temporarily pull knives and scissors from its shelves, with a man now in custody facing attempted murder charges.

Then, on Monday, a Supreme Court judge jailed killer Lindim Aliti for six and a half years for fatally stabbing Thomas Tran in the heart during a brawl at Oakleigh in June last year. During his sentencing, the court heard after the attack Aliti told a friend saying: “that’s one down now … confirmation”.

The number of knife-related incidents – injuries, homicides and weapon seizures – are at record levels, according to law enforcement and medical authorities.

In 2020, 366 people were hospitalised following knife attacks, up 25 cent on the previous year alone, according to the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit. Almost 3000 people have been hospitalised since 2010.

Nearly one-third of injuries in 2020 were inflicted by perpetrators unknown to the victim, including nearly 50 incidents of gang attacks.

Victoria’s coroner also reports 29 people were killed using knives and pointed weapons last year.

Recent figures from the Crime Statistics Agency also paint a compelling picture about the number of people found carrying knives.

It shows that of the almost 16,000 weapons offences issued in the past financial year, more than 60 per cent involved prohibited and controlled weapons such as knives and illegal, edged weapons.

Assault charges involving weapons rose 5.8 per cent.

And the number of people charged for possessing a prohibited weapon – which includes flick knives and swords – rose 4.5 per cent in the year to July 2021.

On the streets, youth worker Joe*, whose name has been changed to protect the identity of the children he works with, said following the easing of lengthy lockdown restrictions, tension and animosity that had been brewing for the past 18 months was ready to blow.

The youth worker said while some young people were carrying weapons – from kitchen knives to machetes – for reputation and status, most were now casually carrying them out of fear of being chased or attacked during an outing to a local park, restaurant or on the way home from school.

He believes the rise is partly due to a generation of young people who don’t know how to fight with their hands, instead reaching for a knife as a first option.

Crime scene officers and detectives on scene following stabbing on Jacka Boulevard in St Kilda.Credit:Erin Pearson

“We need to get proactive in addressing this issue, not reactive, and spread the message to parents and communities. We don’t want to see press conferences where it’s too late and they’re looking for offenders; I’ve already been to six funerals this year,” Joe said.

“Our intel is telling us we’re in a very dangerous position.”

The youth worker said the ease of access to knives was particularly challenging, with young people telling him and his colleagues that they were taking knives from the family kitchen, local supermarket or ordering them online to be shipped straight to their homes.

“This includes large machetes. They then come to your front door all wrapped up and all you need is a credit card,” Joe said.

“We’re talking about some of the state’s most at-risk young people.”

Police seize knives after a 46-year-old was fatally stabbed on King Street.Credit:Nine News

On the ground, a Victorian police officer, who asked not to be named for fear of losing his job for speaking out, said frontline members were experiencing the bloody rise first-hand.

The officer said they alone would’ve attended 50 stabbings already this year, with kitchen knives the weapon of choice.

They now fear what’s next.

“We’re just waiting for the moment that they go to the next realm, to gun crime. That’s really the next step. We’re just lucky here guns are a lot more difficult to get a hold of than in the US,” the officer said.

“These gang members, they’re all carrying knives.”

Victoria Police have attributed much of the most recent rise in weapon seizures to a spike in interactions with the public during roadside intercepts and checkpoints during lockdown.

But they warned that young people arming themselves may not realise that in doing so they are not only committing a crime, but could also escalate violence and place themselves in danger.

A spokesman said officers were currently working to prevent and dismantle serious youth gang crime, which they said often involved knives and other weapons, as part of Operation Alliance.

“The reality is that if someone is carrying a knife, sooner or later they are likely to use it. This could kill or seriously injure another person, or the weapon could be used against them,” they said.

“We have seen the damage and destruction this can cause to friends, families and communities and we are urging young people to stop carrying knives.”

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