Staffordshire Police goes back to school to get youngsters to #DitchTheBlade

Staffordshire Police is going back to class in its continued efforts to crack down on knife crime across the county.

In a bid to keep figures low, it is working with educational bodies to reach out to vulnerable and at-risk youngsters as early as possible and make sure they are helped before they have a chance to become just another statistic in the annual round-ups of youth crime.

One such body is the Stoke-on-Trent Association of School, College and Academy Leaders (SASCAL) in the county’s largest city.

SASCAL’s personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education co-ordinator Vicki Spall is the force’s main point of contact at the body. She said of how they work together: “This includes lots and lots of different topics – sexual health, drugs, gangs, youth crime, youth violence, that sort of stuff.

“We have a gangs and youth violence board set up through education and this has representatives from all the secondary academies and schools. We utilise the curriculum to support that.

“We also look at how we are communicating and sharing intelligence with the police in a partnership approach, working quite closely with the gangs policing unit. There are a number of PCs and sergeants responsible for that so we work closely with them.

“PCs meet with school representatives to share issues and problems around County Lines [drug-running operations] as well as territorial rivalry between schools, and they share that intelligence.”

This approach is, as mentioned, based on education to try and prevent youth violence and “catch it with the police and many partners before students get involved with something they shouldn’t be”.

Part of this incorporated last year’s #DitchTheBlade campaign run by Staffordshire Police in conjunction with its partners in November, trying to tackle knife crime in the county.

The week-long campaign, which ran from Monday 9 November, included educational tactics such as officers attending a workshop at Staffordshire University to engage with students; releasing two episodes of Staffordshire Police’s podcast ‘The Beat’ – one including an interview with anti-knife crime campaigner Ali Cope; partner education support from other agencies such as Ruff and Ruby and other ongoing partnership education work; the latest year-round Safe+Sound campaign activities for youngsters including special anti-knife crime messaging; and a special presentation given to school students with the brother of a knife crime victim to show youngsters what happens to families after a life is tragically lost. This was with Byron Highton, from Preston in Lancashire, who tragically lost his brother Jon-Jo to knife crime aged just 18 in 2013 and has set up The JJ Effect in his name – and also with the Stoke-on-Trent-based youth organisation Together We Make A Difference (TWMAD), funded in part by the Department for Education.

Vicki added: “All high schools and a number of our alternative education providers had a pack of resources sent out to them including lesson plans, #DitchTheBlade leaflets and posters to display and national campaign resources.

“The majority of schools had a lesson planned during that period to look at knife crime, County Lines and also youth violence and there was also a co-ordinated letter in conjunction with Staffordshire Police and the Commissioner for Police, Fire and Rescue Matthew Ellis which was sent out by schools to all parents on the same day at the same time.

“This told them if they did have concerns they could call 101 or speak to their child’s school etc. We don’t have a massive issue with knife crime in Staffordshire but we do want to alert parents and carers to the danger of carrying knives, how to spot the signs and make sure those figures remain low.

“In each school students need to know where they can go for pastoral or teacher support if they have concerns.”

PSHE education has now become statutory in the national curriculum so 2021 represents an opportunity for such topics to be discussed year-round with pupils, which will help Staffordshire Police’s messages to be talked about more often. This is also supported through a number of other partners.

“These will be delivered across different year-groups,” Vicki added. “We’re looking at a project this year that will be a little more creative around knife crime and links in to the local authority departments as well.

“I think the key is that within all schools there are members of staff who are aware of a process with the police where we identify issues. If we hear about any concerns with young people getting involved around things like County Lines and youth violence or knife crime we can report those issues straight into the wider partnership.

“Alongside the educational perspective there are those safeguarding policies in place as well.”

Mark Hardern, Youth Violence Coordinator for Staffordshire Police, said: “Educating those in schools, colleges and universities is just one of a raft of tactics we employ to spread the anti-knife crime message. We don’t just target the young and we speak to all walks of society.

“The police will always get asked what we are doing about knife crime which, clearly, we are part of the solution for. By some of the great work taking place with different partners such as TWMAD, Ruff and Ruby and the support of SASCAL it all helps in our multi-agency messaging to tackle the issue.”

Anyone who has any concerns around a young person becoming involved in knife crime or carrying a knife can report these via our website, through direct message on Facebook and Twitter or by calling 101. In an emergency always call 999.

Tackling knife crime is a priority for Staffordshire Police and partners, under the multi-agency serious violence strategy. It is something that is focused upon every day of the year, with national intensification weeks used to highlight the issue and the work being done in this area.

More information on the campaign and advice is available here: www.staffordshire.police.uk/ditchtheblade

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