HALF of all dangerous weapons seized from people in Swindon last year were carried by teenagers, with some as young as 14.
A total of 56 people were apprehended in possession of a weapon including, knives, bladed articles, or firearms, in 2013.
The oldest offender recorded was a 68-year-old in December.
Of all the offences, 28 involved people aged 19 and under, including two 14-year-olds. While most weapons recovered were knives or other bladed items, eight instances of firearms offences were dealt with in the town.
In 2010, Wiltshire Police’s Firearms and Knife Education programme (FAKE) was launched in response to the rise in young people carrying weapons, and officers say incidents have fallen by more than half.
PC Kevin Harmsworth, fire-arms education officer with Wiltshire Police, said: “The programme is delivered by the armed response group because we are at the front of dealing with young people with potential weapons.”
PC Harmsworth said officers always face a difficult decision when called to reports of a weapon, particularly involving young people.
“It is not always obvious if it could be a real or imitation firearm, and we have to risk assess every call where there has been a report of a firearm,” he said.
“We go out to inform children of the dangers. Potentially we have got police officers pointing real guns at young people. Imitation firearms look so realistic officers often won’t know the difference.
“Because we were seeing more incidents involving young people we decided to launch the education programme in 2010, which includes a presentation for 13 to 19-year-olds.
“We are trying to raise awareness around the issue of carrying weapons in public.
“At that age they start to become impressionable, and gang culture, which is part of the national picture, comes into play.
“We show two scenarios. The first is treated as low threat, where we will treat the offender as a young person rather than go in all guns blazing.
“That way the incident can be resolved safely.
“In the worst case scenario if someone pointed a gun at a police officer they have to respond with a certain amount of force.
“Since we started we would see around 700 young people involved in incidents involving weapons across Swindon and Wiltshire.
“Since that time we have seen a 53 per cent reduction in incidents involving weapons with people aged 18 and under. That is the result of a collaborative effort with neighbourhood policing teams, who are on the front line of anti-social behaviour.
“For knives, the use of Tasers come into force, but the main aspect is about communication, which seems to resolve incidents without the use of force.”
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police added: “Firearms officers have to treat every incident as if the weapon is real.
“Many imitation firearms seized by the Armed Response Group are so realistic that even trained officers find it hard to tell if they are real or fake.”
It has been illegal to carry an imitation gun in public since April 2004.
List of police seizures across town
The latest figures come after a host of weapons seizures across the town since 2012. In January 2012 a shotgun was seized during police operation at the Baker’s Arms pub at the Railway Village.
Later that year, in April, barman Tony Blackford was shot in the face by a gang of youths performing a drive-by shooting with a paintball gun.
In September 2013 a woman stabbed the mother of her friend at a property in Freshbrook.
Operation Harness raids in January this year saw weapons including a Samurai sword and machete seized as part of the biggest ever day of police action across the county.
And last Saturday a 13-year-old boy was reprimanded after shooting a girl in the face with a BB gun.