Schools to mull metal detectors to combat knife-carrying youths

1,836 cases against youths opened in 2007 compared to only 412 in 1998.

metal detector 88 (photo credit: )
metal detector 88
(photo credit: )
The growing number of teens carrying knives has led police and educators to consider introducing US-style metal detectors at school entrances, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Police figures reveal a marked increase in the number of cases against youths for carrying knives, with 1,836 opened in 2007 compared to only 412 in 1998. The year 2007 saw a 12-percent increase in knife possession cases compared to 2006 (1,643 cases). Police are frustrated with the apparent inability of juvenile courts to convict teenagers for possession of knives. The courts prefer to convict youths for possession of a knife only when accompanied by other violent or drug-related offenses, a police source explained. "We checked what punishments the courts handed down, and saw that [only] eight cases [of knife possession] have received sentencing," the source said. While acknowledging that the problem had become more widespread, the source said that the recent rise in cases was more a result of increased police searches of minors than an actual rise in the phenomenon. The law permits officers to stop and randomly search any youths who look suspicious, and to search their vehicles if relevant. People over age 18 are permitted to carry knives as tools and can be in possession of sharp objects during outings such as camping trips. However, adults can be arrested if a knife is found in their possession during nighttime outings or under other circumstances that might suggest the knife was brought along as a weapon. The law is far more stringent with minors, banning them from carrying knives in public, and permitting juvenile courts to sentence them to a maximum of five years in prison for carrying a knife - a sentence that has never been handed down. In an effort to combat the increase in armed teenagers, police have launched a wide-ranging PR campaign aimed at minors that includes giving talks to schoolchildren. During these lectures, police youth workers often encounter ignorance and urban legends, such as the myth that it is permissible to walk around with a knife that has a blade shorter than the width of four fingers. "A lot of kids come with knives... but many are amazed to learn they're breaking the law. They think only using the knife is an offense," the source said. One example of this includes a mother who bought her son a knife for self-defense against violent bullies at school. The boy was given a warning and an explanation on the severity of knife possession, the source added, saying that police refrain from opening criminal cases when it emerges that the minor is not criminally inclined. "But if they are caught in a club or pub with a knife, a file is opened. The combination of knives with alcohol is problematic, to say the least," the source said. Although school principals had the right to search for knives, they were often frightened of exercising that right, and instead call in the police, the source added. "The fact that a knife is available can turn every legitimate argument into a tragic incident," the police source said, quoting a judge who sentenced a youth for a knife-related crime. "Youths in the heat of the moment can make lethally wrong, hotheaded decisions." In terms of enforcement, police have stepped up searches of youths at school entrances, and at entrances to pubs and clubs at night. "We have set this as a central goal," the source said. "Knife possession is the kind of offense that must be exposed by us. Therefore, it requires intelligence and preparation." The source continued, "We tell the youths, don't fight violence with violence. You can escalate the situation. If someone knows you have a knife, they can bring something else [to the fight]." Juvenile courts should hand down punishments for minors caught carrying knives to increase the deterrence factor, rather than waiting for more serious crimes to occur before giving prison sentences, the source said. "If you only sentence minors for knife-carrying after they commit other crimes, it becomes too late to educate them," the source warned.