Protecting vulnerable young people from being drawn into gangs is key to tackling gun and knife crime in Sheffield, says a senior detective.
Det Supt Una Jennings told Sheffield councillors about the harrowing story of Peter, a young man who has been in custody 24 times. He grew up with no stable family and no life chances and was lured into violent crime.
During a presentation on Operation Fortify, a new multi-agency drive to combat violent crime, Det Supt Jennings said it was vital to look at why people became involved in crime and how the root of it often linked with other social problems.
“One of the drivers behind Fortify is a very personal one to me but I think one which will resonate with you all who represent and believe in communities,” she told a meeting of the full council.
“It’s about a young man I met in our custody suite in December last year. We’ll call him Peter, not his real name, but he was from the Manor which is an area that is deprived and suffers high levels of crime.
“His mother was well known to eviction services as a drug user and by the time he was five, he had lived in four different addresses in social housing. He never met his father.
“We know now people like Peter are 90 per cent of our most violent prolific offenders, people who have experienced violence in their homes.
“He didn’t have any significant role models until he joined a gang. By the time Peter went into secondary education, he couldn’t read or write and was down as a problem child. He was expelled from school and he left a pupil referral unit without any formal qualifications.
“By the time Peter was 12 he had already committed street robbery and what that means for people like Peter is he was three times more likely than other children to commit 15 or more really serious violent offences in the next nine years.
“Peter was 26 and had been in custody 24 times. He had served 24 custodial sentences of different lengths.
“Here he was again but when I looked at Peter, and he was there for a very serious offence, I didn’t see a bad young man, I saw a really scared individual. I saw the look on his face that was scared, tired and absolutely hopeless.
“All those tens of thousands of pounds we have spent on Peter – on social workers, policing and prisons – if that’s good enough for us to have Peter back in custody at the age of 26 and hopeless then I’m doing the wrong job, this is not a job I want to do. There has to be something better for the young people of our city.”
Operation Fortify includes strategies to make criminal activity more difficult, prosecute those running gangs, target areas where crime is concentrated, and, crucially, involve all members of the community from major nightclubs to families.