Sometimes high impact crimes such as murder and other youth violence paint a worrying picture of young people across the UK but what doesn’t often get reported is that the vast majority are not involved in criminal behaviour whatsoever.
Less than one per cent of the total population of under 18s are ever accused of any physical violence each year.
Locally we were able to report that over the last three years we have seen a 50 per cent reduction in the number of under 18s being arrested in Bedfordshire.
This was largely part put down to the work we undertake in schools and other educational establishments.
Since 2011 we have worked hard to increase our relationships with schools and this really benefits us as we are now able to identify vulnerable young people who may be on the cusp of criminal behaviour. Every six weeks we meet with safeguarding leads at key schools are have a discussion about how we can support each other.
It is now widely recognised that gang and youth violence is as much an issue of safeguarding vulnerable people, as it is about ensuring the right sanctions are in place to punish criminal behaviour. There is now better understanding that some young people who commit violence have been victims themselves, or witnessed violence in the home at an early age.
There is also greater awareness of the dangers gangs pose to girls and young women, including the significant risk of sexual exploitation. Therefore, there is now an emphasis on early intervention and prevention.
Students that we talk to are often bemused when we tell them that one of the main parts of our job is to keep them out of trouble but this is certainly the case – we would much rather ensure that support is provided to a young person who is displaying concerning behaviours and vulnerabilities than wait for them to commit a crime and deal with it by bringing them into our custody facilities.
Bedfordshire Police continues to offer educational prevention programmes in all schools and educational establishments, enabling children and young people to make positive life choices. Our youth on youth violence and weapons input is always well requested and gives students a real insight into why someone would get involved in a gang, how Bedfordshire Police deal with 999 calls when weapons are involved and what someone can do to turn their life around. We also use the sessions to promote the www.FEARLESS.org.uk website which is the Crimestoppers youth brand.
We also look at different ways of engaging with young people and regularly we employ the services of theatre in education groups.
During this month of action we will be running a theatre input and workshop in a number of schools which tells the powerful and moving story of two teenage girls who are attracted to boys from rival gangs leading to betrayal, fear and a fatal misunderstanding. The aim of the sessions is to challenge thinking and change attitudes and the last time we ran the same session the vast majority of students said they had changed their views on knife and gang crime.
Recently we had been monitoring a group of young people who had progressed from causing anti-social behavior to becoming involved in some serious criminal activities – including carrying weapons and taking part in street robberies.
While colleagues from our community team were able to deal with the main perpetrators we were able to work closely with schools and community and voluntary groups to ensure support was provided to those on the fringes of the group and to ensure they had other positive activities to explore.
One challenge we can experience is the reduction in youth provision and facilities. To me youth services are among the most important services provided and youth workers play invaluable roles in supporting young people make positive choices. This often means that we can be limited when trying to provide young people with diversionary activities and trying to keep them away from the criminal justice system.
Ultimately ending serious youth violence requires an end-to-end approach, from prevention to rehabilitation and is everyone’s responsibilities from a range of statutory and non-statutory partners, the local community, public agencies and businesses.
Richard Denton joined Bedfordshire Police in 2009 and became the force’s strategic lead for schools and education establishments in 2011. Whilst ensuring crime prevention messages and awareness sessions are provided for a number of force priorities including Cyber Crime, Child Sexual Exploitation and radicalisation he also supports the force with its work around Serious Youth Violence.
Visit the Bedfordshire Police website for information and support about gang related crime and serious youth violence.