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'Preventing criminals exploiting 'at risk' children are just one way we are tackling violent crime' - says Commissioner

'Preventing criminals exploiting 'at risk' children are just one way we are tackling violent crime' - says Commissioner

Whilst Devon and Cornwall remains one of the safest areas in the UK, with the third lowest crime rate across 42 forces, we cannot ignore the fact that recorded levels of violent behaviour are of increasing concern.

Central Torquay along with Exeter city centre and Plymouth city centre currently have the highest recorded levels of serious violence per population within Devon, with Boscowen in Truro having the highest level in Cornwall.

Torquay’s police data for violent crime, like all of these areas, includes domestic abuse and weapons offences.  In the 12 months to February 2022 Torquay town centre experienced a 16.8% increase in ‘violence against the person’ as well as an 8.3% increase in possession of weapons offences. It’s data like this that has driven me to make tackling violence a priority in my Police and Crime Plan, alongside road safety, anti-social behaviour and drugs.

We must not forget that behind this data there are real people affected by these crimes – whether it’s children, grandparents, passers-by or even family pets – and it’s vital we understand the impact on everyone involved.

So, how is my office tackling serious violence? Back in 2018 we were awarded funding from the Home Office to set up the Turning Corners project in South Devon and Torbay. The combined partnership of police, youth service organisations, parents and schools worked together to identify and support predominantly young individuals where there were concerns about offending behaviour.

In its first 12 months, the project helped 144 young people and provided a significant amount of learning to help identify young people at risk. Most importantly, this happened before they became involved in criminality.

Out of those 144 young people:

  • 83% had experienced domestic abuse (including physical, emotional or neglect or a victim and/or witness)
  • 39% grew up in a household with adults experiencing alcohol and/or a drug problems
  • 17% faced parental abandonment
  • 16% had a parent with a mental health condition

Much of the learning from the Turning Corners project now continues under the banner of the Serious Violence Prevention Partnership across Devon and Cornwall with the aim of tackling serious violence and its causes. This includes:

  1. Understanding the problem – we’ve commissioned leading crime and justice consultancy Crest Advisory to assess, develop and analyse the information to identify opportunities for development.
  2. Through the partnership, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and Devon and Cornwall Police have invested £32,892 into a community hub in Falmouth to work in partnership with a sports provider, helping young people on the verge of or beginning to get involved in harmful behaviour.
  3. Helping the harmed and the harmer to recover – we have funded two Restorative Justice family workers who work with families that want things to change where harm is acknowledged and responsibility accepted.
  4. Giving children a second chance – for children who have admitted to an offence, and if it is not in the public interest to prosecute, an ‘out of court disposal’ can be considered. £60,000 has been funded to improve this process which can lead to better results for young people.
  5. Getting young people back on track – the prevention programme has funded the expansion of the Pathfinder programme to 18-25 year olds. Pathfinder offers a solution for offenders that defers a prosecution with a contract for the offender, but still holds them to account for their actions.
  6. Investing in speech, language and communication skills – difficulties in speech, language and communication can often be debilitating. National figures show a higher proportion of young people in Youth Offender Institutions present with special educational needs (15%), compared to 3% of the total school population. Therefore, extra funding has been given to Plymouth’s Youth Offending Team so they can increase their speech and language therapy (SALT).
  7. Preventing criminals exploiting ‘at risk’ children – offering young people constructive alternatives to getting involved in crime. We continue to do this through the prevention partnership which covers Teignbridge and South Hams Districts and will reach over 80 families every year.

This new approach is led by myself and the Chief Constable, Shaun Swayer. We work as equals to trial new ways to prevent violence.

Speaking about the programme, Superintendent Neil Ralph, who heads up local policing in South Devon, said: “The Turning Corners project and Serious Violence Prevention Partnership are excellent examples of innovation to tackle crime.

“Both demonstrate a trauma-informed approach, working with partners and key stakeholders to reduce long term threat, risk and harm, with a key focus on children and young people and local communities.

“Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are extremely safe places to live, work and visit, and working with partner agencies and local communities on initiatives such as this provides the opportunity to make it even safer.”

If you have been a victim of crime please report it to police, in an emergency call 999 or in a non emergency call 101, webchat or email the police via devon-cornwall.police.uk. Alternatively, to stay 100% anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online at Crimestoppers-uk.org or call Freephone 0800 555 111.

Victims of Crime can get free expert advice 24 hours a day from Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111 or via victimsupport.org.uk.