LONDON Football players backed a call for teenagers to stop carrying weapons on Monday as figures showed police had arrested 2,500 suspects and searched 55,000 people during a massive clampdown on knife crime.
In all, 1,600 knives have been seized since the government's Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) was launched in 10 areas of the country on June 5, prompted by a series of high-profile teenage murders.
At a news conference on Monday, England players added their backing.
"I think the kids in the past ... the deterrent hasn't been strong enough, they've probably never felt that there's a chance of them going to prison," said defender Rio Ferdinand.
"For us to be a part of this is fantastic and hopefully we can have some effect on the young people."
The police crackdown came after a series of violent teenage deaths on streets across Britain, most the result of knifings. It has seen police using tough powers to stop and search teenagers without needing to have reasonable suspicion.
The scale of the problem was highlighted with two more deaths this weekend.
In the early hours of Saturday, 16-year-old Conor Black was stabbed to death in the Harpurhey district of Manchester, while Nilanthan Murddi, 17, became the 23rd teenager to die violently in London this year after he was knifed in Croydon.
"The serious injuries and deaths we've seen on our streets have to stop," said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. "If you carry a knife, someone is going to get seriously hurt or worse."
Official figures last month showed that there were 22,151 serious offences involving knives across England and Wales in the year up to 2008.
"The worrying trend from hospital data is that we have increases in severity of injuries and the age profile is moving down into that middle teen group," said London's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock, who headed the TKAP.
Both Smith and Hitchcock said the issue required more than police enforcement measures, which was why the England players had been asked to give their support.
David Beckham told the conference that when he was 13 one of his best friend's brothers, who was one the verge of signing for Leyton Orient, was stabbed and left paralysed.
"It's been going on for a long time. No one wants to see the devastation I saw my friend and his family go through," he said.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced at the launch of the programme that prosecutors should get tough on young people found carrying weapons, with a presumption to prosecute those aged 16 or 17 rather than to let them off with a caution.
Smith said in London alone, prosecutions for possession of a bladed weapon or knife had increased by 150 percent since April compared with the same period in 2007.
(Editing by Steve Addison)