Academics at the University of Suffolk have been looking into a rise in gang and drug related violence in the county.
Dr Paul Andell, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Visiting Professor of Criminology, Professor John Pitts were commissioned by Suffolk County Council to look into the issues stemming from ‘County Lines’.
The initial focus of the research was on the Jubilee Park and Nacton Road areas of Ipswich, where residents and agencies had become increasingly concerned about the levels of crime, youth gang activity, drug dealing and distribution and the possible exploitation of children and young people. However, the scope was widened to cover Ipswich as a whole to ensure the full picture was understood.
A number of long standing initiatives are already in place with some success, including the use of Dispersal Orders and diversionary projects for young people. However, the research provides the Councils, Suffolk Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner and other partners with detailed, up to date insight into the cause and impact of gang related incidents.
As part of an initial action plan, partners have taken some immediate steps, with more to follow by the end of September:
- Identified funding to employ a dedicated manager to build on the multi-agency approach which already exists.
- Use existing community development officers to work within the affected communities
- Secured funding for diversionary activity. This will be used to enhance existing provision, to give alternatives to young people
- Ipswich Community Safety Partnership will take the lead in overseeing progress.
- The Youth Gang Violence and County lines Steering Group will be refreshed and used to develop the countywide response.
A full action plan, which will be developed with communities and other stakeholders will be published later in the year.
Although the research focussed on Ipswich, all agencies are clear they want to use the findings to inform their approach to similar issues in other parts of the county, recognising that each community is different and that local solutions will be needed.
As well as highlighting a number of areas where Suffolk’s response is having an impact, the research recommends some key areas which could help improve the county’s response.
• Clearer Leadership - It is critical that key agencies, Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner take joint responsibility for implementation of the recommendations of the research team.
• Effective Strategic Governance - There are a multitude of partnership forums many with similar but overlapping roles and there is a need to identify where strategic and operational co-ordination will take place.
• A Multi-Agency Operational Response - In order to realise the strategic aims of the initiative, the research suggests that a co-located multi agency team needs to be set up, composed of professionals from the areas of policing, adolescent safeguarding, youth work, education, youth justice, /CRCs (Community Rehabilitation Companies), child and adolescent mental health, peer mentoring, employment & training and housing
• Community Engagement - Community Engagement will be central to the initiative and would include community development in the gang-affected neighbourhoods, working with gang affected families and developing and implementing pre-emptive intervention in schools, Pupil Referral Units, Children’s Homes and with Young People and staff in B&B accommodation
• Systematic ‘Real Time’ Evaluation - This research has adopted a cyclical methodology of Plan, Do, Review which has enabled the knowledge and experience of a range of stakeholders to be brought to bear on the problem. It is proposed that this approach continues in Ipswich to ensure that the interventions deployed are effective.
Dr Paul Andell, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Suffolk said: “It is important to acknowledge that the issues facing Ipswich are not an isolated occurrence with estimates of up to 70% of the country facing similar problems relating to gangs and County lines. It is useful to examine why this is happening in Suffolk and elsewhere at this particular time. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the harms generated from these illicit enterprises and a sensitive but robust response is required. We hope that by assisting with co-ordinated interventions we can help reduce the harm to young people involved or affected by gangs.”
Suffolk’s agencies have a long standing track record of working well together on community protection and tackling crime but in light of the research recognise that they need to focus their collective efforts through a new action plan, which will be published by the end of the year, under three main headings to take their work to the next level. These are:
- Reducing vulnerability - supporting families, children and young people to be resilient and not vulnerable to those seeking to exploit them
- Creating an environment which puts communities in control - working with communities to create an environment where these types of difficulties cannot thrive
- Enforcement – taking robust action against those who seek to exploit others and who orchestrate criminal activity
Recognising the role of communities is key to being successful, representative from the different agencies will be on hand at Ipswich Borough Council area committees during September as part of a programme of community engagement, to discuss the issues raised through the research and to find out what communities think the solutions need to include. Details of the events are set out in Notes to Editors.
Cllr Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “Children and young people who become involved in drug dealing gangs tend to have many of the same risk factors as other vulnerable young people. This means we already know a lot about how to help them and have many systems in place to do so. We must work with our young people to show them the dangers and help them understand that they are being exploited by adults to make profits and challenge the culture which glamourizes this way of life.
“It is disgraceful that criminals are preying on vulnerable children and young people in our society and I am committed to working with partners to make the county a no go area for those that prey on the vulnerable.”
Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner said: “This report for me is a very serious call to arms to work together across all agencies, communities, businesses and the voluntary sector to support our young people at risk of becoming embroiled in the gang and drug culture. No one agency can solve these problems on their own, we need to pool resources and focus our attention to make a real impact.
“Personally I will do everything I possibly can to ensure the action plan that comes out of this research is a resounding success and the work must start now.”
Councillor Alasdair Ross, Ipswich Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Protection, said: “This is a growing problem and we all need to work together to tackle this head on. Ipswich Borough Council is ready and willing to put in the extra resources required for us to do our part. We support a triple-pronged approach of more immediate patrols and enforcement, a short term plan to tackle gang violence and a longer term plan to tackle the scourge of illegal drugs which is at the root of this problem.”
All young people who were spoken to as part of this research were provided with all appropriate advice, guidance and offers of support in relations to issues they raised.
To read the research report click here
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