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Prevention the key to tackling serious youth violence

Our Assistant Chief Constable, Jackie Sebire, is also the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for serious violence. Here, she outlines why prevention and engagement are the key to tackling things like knife and gun crime - and how Bedfordshire is leading the way in this area

The quote “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” has been attributed to a variety of great thinkers from different fields.

This is likely because there is a universal truth behind it. Policing is just one discipline where we need to be adaptable, progressive and embrace change, especially when it comes to tackling pressing issues such as knife crime, serious youth violence and criminal exploitation.

Police leaders across the country are well aware of the increase in serious youth violence, driven in part by younger and younger children becoming involved in the remorseless world of county drugs lines.

The Home Office has recognised this with £100 million of investment specifically targeted at this threat, and police forces have responded in turn.

The ‘surge funding’ element of this money has been used to fund effective enforcement action in 18 areas with particular challenges around youth violence.

In Bedfordshire, our £1.38 million share of surge funding has directly enabled us to run almost 100 patrols targeting gangs and serious violence, seizing more than six kilos of drugs and around £130,000 of cash in the process.

It has also directly funded some fast track forensic results, allowing us to quickly identify the prime suspect in a shooting in Luton and the owner of a firearm recovered in Bedford.

Nationally, after rising consistently between 2014 and early 2018, knife injury hospital admissions are now falling across England and Wales, while firearms offences have also levelled out.

The profile of those involved in county lines has shown us there is no binary definition now between victim and suspect. A lot of the time, suspects will be victims and victims will be suspects – you can’t put people into stereotypical ‘profiles’ any more.

Because of exploitation, because of the way the county lines model works, we need to think differently around how we respond and safeguard those at risk.

Clearly, if young people commit the most serious criminal offences, then they need to be held to account through the criminal justice framework.

But we need to understand the contextual safeguarding behind that – what is causing these young people to commit the crimes that they are, and how can we best protect them.

This is where we come back to how police forces can be progressive and embrace change in terms of preventing these issues from happening in the first place.

In Bedfordshire, we are working with the Cambridge Centre for Evidence Based Policing to identify key areas we can target as a force to reduce the risk of violence to our young people.

Although it is early days, we believe the right interventions in just eight per cent of our county, the particular hotspots for serious youth violence, could prevent up to 41 per cent of relevant crimes and harm.

We now have a dedicated analyst, paid for by the surge funding, monitoring things like social media and YouTube for content which is driving and escalating gang clashes on our streets.

Plus just last week, around 100 11 to 14 year olds gathered for our Snapdance event in Bedford, where they enjoyed music and dance acts as well as knife free and other anti-knife crime messages.

This is just one example of a platform where we are offering young people different opportunities and helping them make more positive choices about their future.

These sorts of projects are the cornerstone of our Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, one of 18 such units around the country but the only one with the word ‘exploitation’ specifically mentioned in its title.

This spirit of innovation and prevention is also taking place on a national scale. This week we announced a new partnership with the online marketplace Wish that will tackle the sale of illegal knives.

Wish has established a procedure for police to report products they are concerned about to the company, with Wish committing to review all reports and remove any listings where police believe UK laws have been breached.

I was also delighted at a recent consultation announced by the Department for Education which will review a number of issues in relation to unregulated care homes.

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of young people in unregulated care provision is something I care deeply about.

The far-reaching proposals being consulted upon could make a significant difference to cared-for children in years to come.

They focus on improving the quality of support provided to some of the most vulnerable young people in our society who should be getting the best of care – when, sadly, on occasion they are experiencing the worst.

The fact is, the lack of regulation currently means these young people are often being let down and are being placed at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation – and that is not acceptable.

While there will always be a role for enforcement action and ‘old school’ policing in this area, it is only through the more innovative, preventative measures that police are now leading where we will be able to make lasting change and improve the prospects for our next generation of young people.

Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire

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