Serious violence summit uncovers serious issues facing young people in Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering
- Credit: Archant
The evolution of gangs, drug markets and technology combine in a “perfect storm” to intensify problems facing the police when it comes to tackling serious violence among young people in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, and Havering.
That's according to Professor Simon Harding from the University of West London, who was one of the guest speakers at the East BCU (Basic Command Unit) Serious Violence summit at LondonEast in Rainham Road South, Dagenham, on Wednesday February 12.
The summit brought together police officers, councillors and charity representatives from the tri-borough area of Barking & Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge, all of which have issues with serious violence and young people.
This is the fourth and final summit in a year-long programme that began in January last year; each aims to develop a better understanding of the issues which draw young people towards serious violence, both as offenders and victims.
Second guest speaker Stephen Clayman, who is the East Area's police commander, highlighted the scale of the problem.
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"Under 24-year-olds commit over half of the offences in the east area. Meanwhile, 12-18-year-olds make up 12% of residents, but 40% of the victims of violence," he said.
Whether a young offender or victim, Prof. Harding believes the root cause is the same: "All of this is linked to inequality and deprivation."
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He went on to address gang evolution, which acts as a vehicle of crime for young people who are being drafted in at an increasingly young age.
Prof Harding said that "five years ago the age would have been 14. Now it's 10 or 11."
He further commented that austerity, which has particularly affected the East Area, has "blocked off paths to other avenues, so for a young person stepping into a gang makes sense."
Once in, it becomes all about building "street capital". Part of this, according to the criminology professor, is coercing young people into committing heinous acts of violence to gain respect.
Drugs are often at the centre of this because of the large sums of money involved.
This model has allowed the county lines epidemic - where inner city gangs are involved in transporting drugs to surburban or rural areas - to grow, with Prof Harding estimating that there are currently 2,500 active in the UK.
The ultimate aim is to make money and gain respect, he says: "Respect reduces vulnerability - the more respect they have the less likely they are to be victims."
Much of the process has not changed — circumstances draw vulnerable young people into crime and violence — but there is one big change: technology.
Prof Harding added that the foundations for serious violence are laid online, and that to tackle the problem bodies must know how this area is evolving. Young people are enlisted online, and acts of violence are both planned and showcased on the same forum. It's vital for bodies to know what is going on in their communities.
"We currently face a 21st century problem with 20th century structures," he said.
Updating these structures is one part of the solution, though all the speakers agreed that understanding young people is the key. Det Ch Supt Clayman added: "We need to look at how we're supporting young people. We must listen to what younger people are telling us, they have more experience of this. We ignore them at our peril."
Prof Harding echoed this, saying that he had interviewed young people who felt alone in an "ungoverned and unpoliced world."
Understanding the needs of young people and ensuring they feel safe is a preventative measure to serious violence, which can make a huge difference combined with practical measures. One such measure is bringing the Ben Kinsella Trust learning centre to Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering. The centre aims to educate young people around the dangers of violence and knife crime.
This was announced by Councillor Margaret Mullane, who gave the welcome speech. She said that these summits are not "talking shops", but a driver toward positive action. She added: "We don't want to lose any more of our young people to mindless violence."
Prof Harding concluded: "We need to find solutions for young people, not to young people."