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MPs call for dedicated police for violent schools

PCSOs outside a school in Huddersfield Image copyright PA Media

Schools in areas with a higher risk of youth violence should be given dedicated police officers, say MPs.

The Home Affairs Committee criticised the government’s current violence reduction strategy as “completely inadequate”.

It called on the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to take “personal responsibility” for tackling knife and gun crime among young people.

But the Home Office said the MPs failed to fully recognise its action on crime.

In its report, the committee called for more investment into neighbourhood policing – including a commitment to get a dedicated police officer into “all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence” by April 2020.

It said by committing the money for the officers in the government’s autumn spending review, it would become part of a drive to “rebuild vital links” with the communities affected.

The report further criticised the government’s strategy to cut violent crime in England and Wales for containing “no targets or milestones” and “few new actions”.

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Media captionSchool exclusions and knife crime are both on the rise in England, but are the two actually linked?

‘National emergency’

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said the Home Office had “taken a hands-off approach” to the “national emergency” of youth violence.

“To publish a weak strategy and convene a few roundtable discussions just isn’t enough when faced with youth violence on this scale,” she said.

“Serious violence has got worse after a perfect storm of youth service cuts, police cuts, more children being excluded from school and a failure of statutory agencies to keep them safe.”

The report, published as part of the committee’s inquiry into youth violence, also recommended that:

  • Named individuals in English and Welsh regions report directly to Downing Street on action to bring down violence
  • The government increases funding for youth outreach workers and community youth projects
  • Action is taken to reduce the number of pupils excluded from school, and part-time timetables in alternative schools are ended

The key factors in youth violence

The Home Affairs Committee has compiled arguably the most comprehensive study into the causes of and possible solutions to youth violence since the problems began to escalate in 2015.

Unlike the Home Office ‘Serious Violence Strategy’ – which barely mentioned public sector budget cuts when it was published in 2018 – the Committee identifies resources as a key factor, while emphasising that other issues, such as county lines drug gangs, have also played a part.

But there is no silver bullet, no one easy answer.

Indeed, the MPs caution against slogans that sound good, but which may lack substance, such as “public health approach”.

Instead, the tenor of the report suggests violence will only come down through sustained, hard work, over many years, by government, agencies and communities together.

In her evidence to the committee, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said every school and further education college in London is offered a “named officer”.

The officers focused on activities including “high visibility patrols”, and delivering sessions and bespoke workshops to pupils, she said.

She told the committee that she hoped there would be more than 500 safer schools officers based in the capital by the autumn.

But the committee said “the picture is quite different in other parts of the country”, with 10 of 33 English forces having no dedicated schools officers in 2017-18.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick told the committee she wants more safer schools officers in London

A Home Office spokesman said the government had given the police extra powers and resources.

“The committee’s assessment fails to recognise the full range of urgent action the government is taking to keep our communities safe,” he said.

The spokesman also said the new prime minister’s pledge to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers, and the new national policing board, would “drive the response” to serious violence.

He added: “We have made it simpler for officers to use stop and search, and our Offensive Weapons Act will stop knives making their way onto our streets in the first place.”

Violent crime figures

The latest figures from the Home Office – published in January – showed violent crime recorded by police in England and Wales had risen by 19% in a year.

The number of homicides – including murder and manslaughter – rose by 14% in the 12 months up to the end of September 2018.

And the latest figures on knife crime showed there were 43,516 offences in England and Wales in the 12 months up to March 2019.

The government’s Serious Violence Strategy, launched last April, committed £11m for an “early intervention youth fund” to help young people at risk of getting involved in violence.

The plan also committed funds for a national coordination centre to tackle “county-lines” drug routes to target links between the illegal drugs market and violent crime.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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