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PCC welcomes Home Office investment to tackle serious violence across Bedfordshire

14 Aug 2019

Bedfordshire Police & Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has vowed to ensure money assigned to a Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) will make a real difference in driving down gun, gang and knife crime across the county as a whole.

The Home Office confirmed this week (Monday) that Bedfordshire has been awarded £880,000 to set up the specialist unit to bring together different organisations including police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime at its root cause, in a whole system approach. 

“Serious violence has been on the rise nationally and, sadly, this is no different in Bedfordshire which also faces the scourge of gang, gun and knife crime; where we have seen young people murdered and seriously injured on our streets, with a stabbing virtually every day.

“It is absolutely crucial that we have a genuine partner approach to tackle this issue in society and that everyone plays a part in steering young people away from becoming involved in such crime before it is too late," said Commissioner Holloway.

Bedfordshire is one of 18 forces across the country set to benefit from the £35m Government funding to tackle knife crime and serious youth violence through specialist violence reduction units.

The initial plans for the VERU were first announced in June and followed separate grants to the PCC of £4.571m to pay for the Force’s specialist gun, gang and knife team, Boson, allowing it to be doubled with a permanent unit in the north as well as the south of the county, and £1.38m for extra patrols, intelligence data-gathering and community projects.

T/Deputy Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, who is also the National Police Chiefs’ Council portfolio lead for serious violence, said: “The VERU will allow us to work much more closely with partners in a ‘public health’ approach to preventing gun and knife crime. I have said, time and time again, that this is not purely a police problem and that a joined up approach to address the root causes of serious violence is the only way to tackle this problem.

“It is fantastic that the additional funding has now been confirmed, which means we can drive forward with our plans for a Bedfordshire-wide approach to reducing violence. Every penny will make a difference, and we now have the incredibly important job of turning our plans into reality.”

Late last year, the Home Office agreed to award a £4.571m Special Grant to the PCC to cover the unprecedented costs of Bedfordshire Police’s Boson team in fighting gang violence and weapon supply over three years, including in 2018-19.

Earlier this summer, the former Policing and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd, confirmed in writing to the Commissioner that the Home Office will pay for the cost of the Boson unit in the next financial year too, after she supplied details of the results of its investment.

“I was able to prove to the Home Office team that their money had been very wisely invested in Bedfordshire and produced real results, as the Boson units in the north and south of Bedfordshire had chalked up 148 years in prison terms in a year. But it's a truism that you can’t just arrest your way out of serious youth violence. There’s a much wider piece of work around winning hearts and minds through education, driving home the health messages around the dangers and working with local authorities and communities themselves to better safeguard children and intervene earlier to protect them when they are vulnerable to being lured into gangs and knife carrying,” said Commissioner Holloway.

“I’m delighted that the money for the VERU has now been rubber stamped, after the Home Office reviewed a detailed description of our bid, and it will allow this countywide, joined-up approach, which is the only way to tackle the escalation of violence that we've seen. While the Force will, of course, continue the hugely impressive work of its Boson unit to arrest and prosecute those involved in gun, gang and knife crime, the VERU will give us the opportunity to be much more proactive in preventing vulnerable young people being exploited and drawn into violence in the first place.

“It also demonstrates, yet again, that the Home Office accepts that Bedfordshire Police is not sufficiently well funded through its core Government grant to be able to respond to all the serious and complex crime challenges it faces.

“Our T/DCC, Jackie Sebire, has shown great leadership in helping us secure this funding and I’m committed to helping her ensure that it is put to good use in making Bedfordshire a safer place for us all."

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has involved members of the worst hit communities to advise it and the Force on projects which are felt likely to be most beneficial in preventing gang and knife crime. These include presentations in schools by emergency medicine specialist, David Kirby, from the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital and playing pupils the hard-hitting '24 Hours in Police Custody’ episode ‘Knifed’ showing a machete fight and double stabbing in The Mall, Luton, and the murder of 18-year-old Azaan ‘AJ' Kaleem in a knife attack in the town.

The VERU bid will span the entire county and involve Bedford Borough Council, Luton Council and Central Bedfordshire Council.

The confirmation of the funding has been welcomed by all three local authorities in Bedfordshire.

Chief Executive of Luton Council, Robin Porter  said:  "This funding is excellent news for Bedfordshire.

"It will ensure the vital work to tackle crime both in Luton and across the county can continue, and can make a real difference.

"Tackling serious violence needs a partnership approach and as a local authority we have a vital role to play.

"Eradicating poverty and improving the life chances of our residents is a key priority for Luton Council.

"We want to understand the root causes of violence and collaborate on prevention, early intervention and support to make lasting change which will ultimately save lives.

"If we can work together with our partners to drive vulnerable people away from poverty, we can make a real and long-lasting difference to them, their families and our communities."

Cllr Colleen Atkins, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety at Bedford Borough Council, said: “We are committed to working in partnership with police and key partners and this funding allocation will go some way to helping Bedfordshire Police in ongoing efforts to tackle the serious issue of violent crime."

Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive Member for Community Services, said: “This is great news, we welcome this funding and hope it will help make a real difference to our communities.”

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