Four Sandwell schools have come together at a local community centre to speak and make a stand against knife crime.
Shireland Collegiate Academy, Holly Lodge, Sandwell Academy and The Albion Foundation met at the Dorothy Parkes Centre in Smethwick on Tuesday (16 July) for a day of talks, presentations and group activities all designed to help engage the young people around violence and knife crime.
The event was led by police and supported by Sandwell Council, with over 80 students aged between 11 and 17 attending. The day was designed to give students from different schools a chance to meet and have their say on what should be done to tackle the issue which is affecting the region.
Sandwell Commander Chief Superintendent Rich Youds, said: “Recently we have seen worrying cases of knife violence, particularly involving young people and this is our way of getting our community together to tackle the issue head on.
“We want to know what young people, living and studying in our borough, think are the root causes of the problem and together, come up with solutions.
“It’s certainly not a simple or quick fix, but this is just part of our efforts and commitment to tackle knife crime and youth violence.”
There are plans for every Sandwell secondary school to have accessed a similar workshop which is being branded a ‘World Café event’ by the end of the next school term which starts in September.
West Midlands Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have recently been trained to deliver these events to help with engaging members of the public in a casual and comfortable setting – much like going for a coffee in a café.
All secondary schools in the area have already been visited sporadically with a metal knife arch that can detect when anyone is carrying a weapon.
Thankfully not one of the 7,817 students who passed through the arch was found to be in possession of a knife, with knife sweeps outside school grounds finding only a small penknife and a pair of scissors.
The use of the knife arch has proven to be successful in opening up conversations with students and the police around the dangers of carrying a knife.
Sandwell neighbourhood officers are promising that the information and opinions recorded from the café-style informal discussion events with the students will prove to be vital in helping to shape the youth violence policy across Sandwell.
Councillor Maria Crompton, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for safer communities, said: “We fully support these activities which will help show young people how devastating knife crime can be for them and their families. We need to do all we can with our partner organisations to make sure young people have the knowledge and skills to stay safe.”
Councillor Joyce Underhill, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for best start in life, said: “We’re working together with the police and head teachers through the police and schools panel to promote safety and tackle difficult social issues. These sessions will give young people essential skills for life.”
The Home Office allocated over £7 million to the force this May in a bid to make the region safer.
In a boost to the region’s economy, 75 brand new police staff investigators (PSIs) will be employed on one year contracts to investigate a range of crimes which will allow neighbourhood teams to be more focussed on how they can work with communities to help prevent youth violence.
The force has set up a new project – Project Guardian which aims to reduce serious violence in public spaces with a focus on reducing knife crime among young people, and the lion’s share of the cash will be ploughed into prevention and enforcement.
Additionally, WMP’s Chief Constable Dave Thompson and West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson are extending their plea out to parents.
The plea and the force’s #lifeorknife campaign is backed by the Brindley family, who lost their son James to knife crime in Aldridge in Walsall just over two years ago. The family have recorded a ‘how to have a conversation with your child about knife crime’ video which is being aired on Facebook and Twitter to help guide parents through what the force acknowledges is a ‘difficult conversation.’
Over the last year, at least three-quarters of the region’s 200 secondary schools have held knife crime talks with their pupils, reaching over 150,000 young people. Each year the Precious Lives project funded by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner also reaches 35,000 young people.
The PCC David Jamieson has backed the work in Sandwell, saying: “Violent crime is a national emergency. Whilst robust policing has an important role, tackling the root causes of crime and the support of the whole community, including families is crucial if we are to address it.”
Anyone who suspects someone of carrying a knife is urged to report their concerns via Live Chat on the website, by calling 101 or by calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.