Matthew Scott is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.
Francis’ life was transformed by gangs within just 18 months. Many of the hooks that he was drawn in by are familiar in many cases – cash and gifts, then rewards for tasks undertaken and escalation through more serious acts of crime and then violence.
And why did he turn to the gang? Isolation from his peers. A victim of racism. A need for greater belonging. But it led to a combined 16 years of prison sentences.
This is not a recent case – but one which started in London in 2002. Many of the aspects of gang behaviour have been the same for nearly two decades. However, the “county lines” element, where they run drugs operations out of major cities into counties represents a real threat to young people and local communities. Some of the criminality that these gangs have been involved with have been known to now include child sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery cases.
PCCs have their role to play in tackling serious violence. We are elected to make communities safer. We do this by supporting victims, setting priorities, securing funding and building partnerships.
The PCC role is needed now more than ever. Whilst policing looks to work better together regionally and nationally, it is important that the democratic oversight, accountability and transparency we offer is not lost and that victims and local projects do not miss out. We can provide the focus and attention that these issues deserve in its widest sense and across the public sector.
As many as 40 per cent of London county lines have a footprint in Kent. This represents a challenge for local policing, but one which has been well mapped by Kent Police in conjunction with other Forces and agencies.
That’s why I’m working with people like Francis to educate young people about the risks of being involved with a gang. It’s part of a massive investment in prevention, education, enforcement and diversion that has come from my Violence Reduction Challenge – the biggest study of Kent crime data and activity undertaken.
The results of the Challenge have seen the establishment of a Medway Taskforce, which is bringing agencies together to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. Funding is in place so that schools in every district will have access to gangs awareness talks. Community Safety Partnerships have stepped up and are using nearly half of the funding I give them now for local violence reduction initiatives.
The Police Cadets programme will continue to grow too. I Fund this scheme locally, which engages young people from all backgrounds ages 13-17 and builds positive relationships with the Police, as well as skills, confidence and resilience. Crucially, over 40 per cent of cadets has been identified as needing support to avoid them getting caught up in crime.
These brilliant young people are supporting their local communities with social action projects, volunteering at events and fundraising for good causes. Some of them are now joining the Police as Officers and Staff, thanks to their brilliant volunteer leaders.
Kent Volunteer Police Cadets will be in every part of Kent by the end of this year – there were none when I was elected in 2016.
On top of this I have secured additional money from the Home Office. This year, I’ve won £1.7 million for extra Police enforcement which has seen hundreds of arrests and the expansion of the Police’s gangs team. I’ve also secured £1.1 million to set up a multi-agency violence reduction unit, and £700,000 to work with St Giles Trust and others to give young people like Francis a way out of gangs.
The reality is however that Government funding for these projects needs to be made more sustainable. All of this effort from local and central funding over the next three years is worth £6.8 million, but too much is at risk from short-termism from Home Office pots. This needs to end. We need Boris Johnson to deliver on his brilliant pledge for 20,000 more Police Officers so we can join up prevention and enforcement.
And if the Government wanted to be radical – it could commit to funding for emergency services’ cadet units across the country, in the same way they have encouraged the expansion of armed forces cadets in schools.
I’m not stopping here. I’m looking at ways I can work better with schools and youth groups to empower them and help provide new opportunities. I’m building a register of recommended actions for different agencies that have already been made so they can be held to account by the public and me. I’ll be investing more in crime prevention.
There’s going to be a “Mini Cadet” scheme for primary school pupils launched as a pilot soon, which will see engagement with year 5 and 6 pupils. And I’m bidding to the 10 year Youth Endowment Fund to help expand all of this work – an example of good longer-term thinking from Sajid Javid.
The vast majority of young people are good, hard working and responsible citizens. We need PCCs, as their voice in policing and criminal justice, to speak up for them, and help protect them from the risks of exploitation and criminalisation by heinous groups of gangs.