In June I was privileged to represent IPSA at the ProtectED advisory board meeting on behalf of Jane Farrell, IPSA Chair. ProtectED is a Code of Practice and Accreditation Scheme developed and designed by a multidisciplinary team of academics, university security services staff and external industry experts, which aims to set recognised standards in educational establishments for the safety, security and wellbeing of students. The meeting was both enjoyable and insightful and gave much food for thought.
As Chair for Policing Services at IPSA much of the focus of my reporting recently has been on the drastic cuts to funding and manning levels that the police forces from around the UK have suffered and the reported effects that this is having on the increase in crime. Latest figures from the ONS show an 8% increase in 2018/19 in the number of knife crime offences, with a total of 43,526 police recorded incidents. This is an increase by 3,301 offences since 2017/18.
So, what is contributing to the increase in violent criminal activity and what can be done to reduce these crimes? Sadly, the promise of new phones, trainers and designer clothes has seen many young, vulnerable children lured into violent criminal activity by “county lines” gangs usually from major cities who encourage them to transport drugs and cash across county lines often into rural communities.
The increase in “county lines” activity is believed to have contributed significantly to the increase in knife crime. Many children who become involved may be from poorer backgrounds, have learning difficulties, lack aspiration and many may have been struggling or excluded from the school system.
A Home Office report published in July 2017 stated that children were particularly vulnerable after being sent to local authority-run pupil referral units (PRUs) after exclusion. It further went on to say, “exclusion from school does appear to be a highly significant trigger point for the escalation of county lines involvement for children who might be on the fringes of such activity.”
Once involved with these gangs, children are often controlled with threats, violence or sexual assault leaving them living in fear and left with little option but to continue in their criminal activities.
Nobody really knows the official numbers of children involved in “county lines” crime but the Children’s Commissioner has estimated it to be at least 46,000 children involved in gang activity within England.
The Home Office report which was updated in September 2018 is calling for a multi-agency approach to help tackle the “county lines” problem and is calling on educational establishments to play their role in safeguarding those who are vulnerable to exploitation.
The report sets out the statutory guidance for educational institutions and raises guidelines on what to look out for. Schools are being encouraged to educate pupils on the nature and risks of “county lines” exploitation through PHSE lessons, educating them on where they can go for support and encouraging resilience to criminal activity. Teachers are being encouraged to understand the warning signs associated with gang involvement, such as increased pupil absence, an increase in aggression or use of sexually charged, drug related or violent language, a change to material possession such as designer clothes, mobile phones or cash and evidence of physical injuries. Establishments are increasingly being encouraged to report any suspicion of gang activity to the relevant safeguarding authorities and thanks to initiatives such as ProtectED, issues facing students such as this one are being well publicised and safeguarding methods promoted.
Written by Robert Marshall MIPSA IACSP Director at International Professional Security Association (IPSA)