Smith to outline new police drive to tackle knife crime

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The Independent Online

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is to order a police drive against knife and gun crime following several attacks since the start of the year.

The effort has been promised after Gordon Brown signalled his alarm at "out of control" gangs of teenagers roaming the streets. It comes as police investigate three fatal stabbings so far already this year two in London and one in Leicester.

A man was also shot dead in Crumpsall, Manchester, on New Year's Eve.

Police raids against gangs in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool on a "day of action" in November resulted in 118 arrests and more than 1,300 firearms being seized.

Renewed efforts against crime "hotspots" will be promised in a document described as an "action plan", to be published next month by Ms Smith. It is expected to set out moves to increase the numbers of searches by police of suspected troublemakers and to expand the use of closed-circuit television to catch them on tape.

More initiatives to divert vulnerable youngsters from gang membership are planned. Better protection for frightened witnesses who give evidence, and tougher action against deactivated guns, which are then converted by criminals into working weapons, are also to be proposed.

Mr Brown told a Downing Street press conference: "We will consider all possible measures to deal with knife crime in this country. There are issues we have got to deal with, where kids are out of control, where they are roaming the streets, where they are out late at night."

* The extent of the prison overcrowding crisis was highlighted when the Ministry of Justice disclosed a 13-fold increase last year in the use of police cells to hold offenders. Convicted criminals spent 60,953 nights in police cells in 2006, compared with 4,617 the previous year.

David Ruffley, a Conservative home affairs spokesman, said: "Government incompetence means police are spending more time as jailers and less time as crime fighters."