Knife crime and other violent crime saw a steep rise in St Helens last year, police data has revealed.
Superintendent Tami Garvey-Jones from Merseyside Police was questioned by councillors on Tuesday for the first time since taking over as the borough’s new area commander.
She told St Helens Council’s safer communities overview and scrutiny panel there were 312 incidents of knife crime reported in 2018-19, a 46 per cent increase on the previous year.
Supt Garvey-Jones said the majority of knife crimes, which are recorded as “serious crimes”, took place in St Helens town centre, most commonly on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, around midnight.
In addition to the increase in knife crimes, the number of incidents of violence without injury shot up by 45 per cent last year, with 3,758 incidents.
Drug and alcohol-related crimes also rose by 37 per cent.
Alcohol-related crimes rose from 1,167 to 1,593, while drug-related crimes rose from 363 to 496.
Domestic abuse, which has been identified by St Helens Council and partners as a key priority for the borough, represented 18 per cent of all crimes (2,921).
Of that figure, 57 relate to knife crime, 678 relate to alcohol and 183 relate to drugs.
Key times for incidents of domestic abuse were Fridays and Saturdays around midnight.
Supt Garvey-Jones questioned whether there was a correlation between the increases in alcohol and drug-related crimes and domestic abuse.
Supt Garvey-Jones said: “Like serious violence, our key times are Friday and Saturday for domestic abuse, and again around midnight.
“So if you’re looking at the increases between alcohol and drugs, is there a correlation between people with substance misuse, or just having a drink and some recreational drugs?
“They’re going home and violence is occurring either on the streets or on the home, but it’s being classed as domestic abuse.”
Overall, there were 15,905 crimes recorded in St Helens in 2018-19, a ten per cent increase on the previous year.
Of that figure, 33 per cent of all crimes occurred in the town centre.
Across the force, there was an eight per cent rise in all crimes.
The police superintendent also hinted that cuts to police budgets since 2010 may have contributed to a rise in crime.
Supt Garvey-Jones said: “It’s been a relentless journey of reducing our budgets, which means we’ve had reducing resources and now recently we’ve seen an increase in crime.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that out. Is that coincidental or is that a factor of reducing resources?
“We don’t know until we work together, and we work through these new problems we face today.”
Coun Michelle Sweeney, chairman of the panel, questioned whether there was a correlation between domestic abuse and the move to a more centralised policing model.
The force shut down its basic command unit (BCU) in St Helens in February 2017 as part of a major restructure.
Sefton, Wirral and Knowsley command units were also closed as the force moved away from its traditional neighbourhood approach to a more centralised approach.
The force now operates out of one centralised location in Liverpool, which will contribute towards £25 million of savings by 2021.
Supt Garvey-Jones said the local policing model was “refocused” in June to be more in line with the Policing Vision 2025, which adopts a public health approach to policing.
As part of this, the force is looking at early intervention that provides a “more robust” approach to problem solving, she said.
Coun Sweeney said one of the issues the panel hope to look at is violence in the home and the impact that has on public health and children and young people’s services, with the removal of children to be put into care.
The Labour councillor also expressed concerns about the centralised policing model and the impact of police cuts.
Coun Sweeney said: “We used to have extremely excellent, pro-active policing within violence in the home and obviously this has been adversely affected by centralised government cuts under austerity.
“We recognise that this has a detrimental impact in our community, not only on the survivors, on victims of violence, but also our children, so this is something that hopefully will be moving forward.”
Supt Garvey-Jones acknowledged that police cuts have been a contributing factor to domestic abuse but said the causes are “complex”.
She said the force has also improved how it reports incidents of domestic abuse.
One area where St Helens has seen a reduction is in anti-social behaviour.
In 2018-19, antisocial behaviour fell from 4,470 to 6,200, a 28 per cent reduction.
Burglaries also fell by four per cent, although this fell way short of the 20 per cent fall across Merseyside.