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Police and VERU efforts to prevent serious youth violence reach 5,000 people

23 Jul 2021

Around 5,000 people have received specialist talks and advice around preventing things like knife crime as part of efforts led by us and the county’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU).

The VERU’s Youth Intervention Specialist (YIS) team has been engaging with young people and professionals across the county to raise awareness around serious youth violence.

The latest one took place this week and saw the YIS team address 651 students and staff in a virtual ceremony at Bedford Academy.

This follows other presentations at Academy Central Bedfordshire, Barnfield College, Lincroft Academy and Mary Seacole since June, which reached a combined 1,046 people.

The VERU, which leads on the multi-agency response to tackling serious youth violence in Bedfordshire, has also led a project to send two football teams from Bedfordshire to the KickOff@3 football tournament this weekend.

Last night (Thursday) the VERU-led Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) campaign also hosted an online webinar, where VERU staff, a police officer and staff from charity FACES Bedford spent an hour answering questions about preventing violence and exploitation.

Some 241 people attended the virtual event on Bedfordshire Police’s Facebook page. 

These are just the latest in a series of proactive partnership prevention activities that police and other agencies have put on over the past few weeks.

In we set up a new Education and Diversion team to lead on prevention and engagement with young people in particular.

Since June this team has delivered 27 educational inputs to more than 3,000 students around things like gangs and serious youth violence, as well as delivering and supporting nine projects alongside partner agencies.

Our teams and the Luton Youth Offending Service continue to run the Tree (Tackling, Reducing and Ending Exploitation) project in Luton, going out on dedicated patrols around the town to engage with young people alongside specialist agencies and community groups.

Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has recently held three engagement events in partnership with Luton Council in the town, as well as funding activities for young people over the summer holidays.

A full list of support and early intervention services funded by the PCC is available on the PCC website.

Luton MP Sarah Owen also led a debate in Parliament this week to highlight issues around knife crime and the need for long term solutions to tackle it here in Bedfordshire.

Assistant Chief Constable Sharn Basra said: “Things like gangs, county lines and knife crime will only be solved if we all work together to help protect young people and show them a better future.

“We will continue to play our part in policing. We know there have been some concerning incidents recently, but knife crime levels remain lower than they were in the 2019/20 financial year, while our community teams continue to patrol in areas affected by these incidents to provide that reassurance.

“Since June our Boson guns and gangs team has seized three guns, offenders in two separate stabbings were jailed for a combined 34 years, while this week four members of a Luton drugs gang were jailed for 56 years, with organised crime often driving incidents of serious violence.

“Enforcement is only one part of the puzzle, though. All of this activity to engage with young people, raise awareness of these issues and collaborate on different projects is absolutely vital work that we must continue and promote if we are to achieve real and lasting change.”

VERU head Kimberley Lamb said: “The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is the fundamental mantra in our approach to reducing violence and the exploitation of young people.

“No one person, agency or community can solve this on their own. It can only be solved if we all work as a team, together.

“These activities are just a snapshot of the work we are doing in the VERU every day, whether it’s working directly with young people and families, supporting grassroots projects or coordinating our response to these issues in Bedfordshire.

“We are here to be that link to different communities across the county so if you have concerns, ideas or want to find out more about what we do, please get in touch.”

Luton MP Ms Owen said: “I’ll work with whoever it takes to get knives off our streets and give young people the support they need and genuine opportunities.

“I believe that central government has been shockingly complacent about knife crime and the root causes of violent crime.

“Our town has been shaken by recent incidents involving knives over the last few weeks. That’s why I urgently brought ministers to Parliament to listen to the worries that people in Luton have about crime, and set out their plan for working with our community to solve the problem.

“I’ll carry on doing all I can to fix this issue until our communities are safer.”

Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye said: "While we continue our enforcement actions against knife and other violent crimes in Bedfordshire, we are stepping up our efforts around prevention and early intervention also.

"As Police and Crime Commissioner, my office is commissioning activities for young people over the summer break, our Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit has professionals with lived experience visiting our schools and Bedfordshire Police's Community Policing teams are proactively working in communities.

"Crime prevention is good for our residents, makes financial sense for local businesses and is the most efficient way to keep our communities safer. This will be central to my Police and Crime Plan." Leader of Luton Council, Hazel Simmons, said: “Over the last few weeks I have met with many members of the community at events organised together with the police. I hear the concerns of the community, but I also hear the commitment to helping to make a change here in Luton.

“This is so important because this is not a problem any one of us can solve alone and we need to work together to ensure our children are not drawn into the types of criminal exploitation that lead to serious violence .

“Ensuring our young people feel safe in our communities and have bright futures to look forward to must be a priority for us all.

“We will continue to play our part working with our community, grassroots intervention providers, as well as our partners in the police and the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), to understand and deal with the many and complicated factors that contribute to this evil.

“Our officers are engaged in projects across the town, from theatre performances in schools highlighting the dangers of knife crime to targeted mentoring and one to one interventions for young people at risk of criminal exploitation.

“This is not a simple problem and the solutions will not be straightforward either. We will continue to work hard with all our partners to ensure our streets are safe places for all."

Did you know there are knife bins around the county to dispose of knives and other weapons? You can find out where these are on the Bedfordshire Police website.

To report any information to Bedfordshire Police visit the force’s online reporting centre or call 101.

You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously and in confidence via their website.

You can speak to someone at the VERU, or find out more about their VERU Village network of support services, by visiting their website.

BAVEX is the partnership campaign raising awareness about violence, exploitation and organised crime. For more information on the signs to spot and where to get help, visit the BAVEX website.

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