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Smith says answer to knife crime is through the arch window

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The Home Secretary will announce plans next month for the installation of metal detectors at school gates in her effort to stop kids stabbing one another.

Jacqui Smith outlined the plans to The Observer over the weekend, saying search arches would be put in place at the country’s toughest secondary schools.

Smith appears to have taken the advice of senior police officers and head teachers; that the arches’ effectiveness in preventing knife crime far outweighs any concerns over pupil privacy.

Apparently, Smith was also told that plonking metal detectors at school gates would be less obtrusive than giving police increased powers to search youngsters for knives.

It is also seen as offsetting the dangers inherent in teachers having to frisk kids for knives – which suggests the detectors will have built-in robot arms to go through the pockets of those students who set the machines off.

Nevertheless, the plan will give some nods to students’ rights – they won’t be required to empty their pockets before going through them. (Those robot arms again.) And no one will need to feel singled out by being sent through the scanners – all students will be required to go through the arches.

There was no indication how the scheme will deal with other pointy metallic objects carried by some school children – pens, compasses, rulers and the like. Perhaps the powers that be feel pushing geometry off the national curriculum is a price worth paying.

Exactly how much of a dent the scheme could make in knife crime rates is not clear. It would seem that the vast majority of the stabbings which have caught the public imagination recently have occurred outside school gates, or nowhere near schools at all. However, in-school stabbings always get lots of attention.

One could also ask whether young thugs intent on causing mayhem inside schools will switch to other, non-metallic weapons – baseball, or even cricket bats, coshes, chairs, biology lab scalpels, their own bodies, etc.

Nevertheless, Smith is banking on the scheme to prevent gang culture being fostered in the playground, and to stop younger children becoming familiar with knives in the first place.

And at £5,000 per detector, it is probably cheaper than putting more coppers on the streets to enforce the current laws on offensive weapons, not to mention locking up kids who persist in carrying the wrong sort of hardware to school.

What does seem sure is that young people in certain schools will be undergoing the sort of security checks and surveillance normally found in airports, as they get scanned on the way in, tracked by CCTV, enter their name in the register by thumb print, before getting their school lunch by swipe card. Some of them might even have to talk to a teacher. ®

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