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Family members of murdered teenager Jodie Chesney speak to the media, with left to right, father Peter, stepmother Joanne and sister Lucy, at New Scotland Yard police headquarters in London, March 7, 2019.Stefan Rousseau/The Associated Press

Britain has been struggling with knife crime for years. But the apparent murder without motive of a high-achieving student with his eyes on a medical career and a young woman playing music with her friends in a park has stunned the country and left the government scrambling to find a solution to what police chiefs are calling a national emergency.

Knife crime has been soaring across much of the United Kingdom as police grapple with rising gang activity and increased drug trafficking. Last year, there were 285 fatal stabbings in England and Wales and more than 40,000 offences involving knives, both record highs. The issue boiled over this week after two teenagers were stabbed to death in the course of 24 hours.

On Friday, Jodie Chesney, a 17-year-old scout, died after being stabbed in the back while hanging out with a group of friends in a park in East London. A day later, Yousef Makki, also 17, who dreamed of becoming a surgeon, was killed in a knife attack as he walked home in suburban Manchester. Police have made arrests in both cases and officers said the attacks were unprovoked.

These were the 9th and 10th fatal stabbings of teenagers in Britain since the beginning of 2019.

Prime Minister Theresa May has been fixated on Brexit and she seemed to be caught off guard by the growing outcry over the killings. She quickly announced an anti-crime summit to address the issue while Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who is responsible for policing, promised to consider more funding for police. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was prepared to put soldiers on the streets to tackle the issue and London’s Metropolitan Police announced plans to step up random stop-and-searches and increase the use of “knife arches,” portable metal detectors set up on streets in nightclub districts.

“There is no hiding from this issue,” Mr. Javid told the House of Commons this week. “Serious violence is on the rise. Communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children.”

But even as the debate raged, the problem continued to worsen. Just hours after Mr. Javid met with police chiefs on Wednesday to discuss knife crime, a 26-year-old man was stabbed to death in east London. And on Thursday, police said an 11th teenager had died after a knife attack in west London.

Ms. May came under criticism for fumbling her initial response to the killings and for overseeing years of police budget cuts when she was Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016. During that period, the number of police officers fell by more than 20,000 to 122,000. Ms. May initially tried to deflect attention from the cuts, suggesting this week that there was “no direct correlation” between rising crime and tighter police budgets.

She was forced to backtrack after several high-ranking officers, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, said falling resources had contributed to the problem. “I agree that there is some link between violent crime on the streets obviously and police numbers; of course there is and everybody would see that,” Commissioner Dick told radio station LBC this week.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has also called for emergency funding and the organization is expected to outline its demands on Friday. “Our [investigative] tactics work but we don’t always have the officer numbers to implement them,” council chair Sara Thornton said Wednesday.

Mr. Javid has promised to consider extra funding but he was contradicted by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said on Thursday that more funding wasn’t needed and that police forces should better manage their resources.

The stabbings have also raised questions about the use of stop-and-search, a controversial tactic that some have argued unfairly targets minorities. Ms. May scaled back stop-and-search when she was Home Secretary, but Mr. Javid has embraced the procedure and said he wants to give police “more confidence” in its use.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has also called for an increase in stop-and-search to fight knife crime. But a recent study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, an independent educational charity, found the tactic ineffective. “Based on London-wide data from the last 10 years, the report finds little evidence of impact of stop-and-search on violent crime and non-domestic violent crime,” the centre concluded. It also looked at a similar effort in 2008 called Operation Blunt 2 that was aimed at combating knife crime in London through more stop-and-search. The centre found that “the initiative had no apparent effect on police recorded crime.”

There have also been growing calls to adopt a more global approach to the knife-crime problem by involving schools and social services. That’s what Scotland did when it set up the Violence Reduction Unit in 2005 to deal with soaring murder rates in cities such as Glasgow. The unit treats violence as a disease and it works with hospitals, community organizations, schools and social workers to diagnose the root causes of violence. Scotland’s murder rate has fallen by 39 per cent in the past decade and knife-crime offences are among the lowest in the U.K.

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