POLICE and crime commissioner for Thames Valley is hoping that better strategy and discipline when enforcing preventative measures for knife crime will reduce serious incidents.

Matthew Barber, the current police and crime commission (PCC) for Thames Valley Police states that homicide figures across the county are down but the recent spate of knife crime is ‘incredibly concerning and confusing’ for residents.

He hopes that with more focus on education, including young people and parents, as well as more funding for youth offending teams the force can reduce the number of people carrying knives.

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PCC candidates Tim Starkey (Labour) and Tim Bearder (Liberal Democrats), who are standing against Barber in the May elections, have also commented about the need for a focus on preventative measures.

thisisoxfordshire: Matthew BarberMatthew Barber (Image: Matthew Barber)

“We need to get in really early to find out why young people are carrying knives,” he said. “We don’t want to wait until someone has been stabbed and deal with the serious end of that - carrying a knife is unacceptable.”

He hopes to be ‘more strategic’ about education for youths such as targeting an age group and ensuring that several safety messages are taught during those years.

“We want to take an age group between 12 and 15 and get these safety messages to them over those three years,” he said. “It will range from internet safety to drug safety and knife crime.

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“We want to do it in this way rather than saying, ‘We have a problem with knife crime lets focus on that and ignore sexting’. - we need to be disciplined.”

The PCC also wants a focus on challenging parents and their role in safeguarding their children.

thisisoxfordshire: Tim Starkey Tim Starkey (Image: Tim Starkey)

He said: “They say they’re concerned about their son or daughter being a victim of knife crime which is understandable but it’s a much tougher question to ask, ‘Why is my child carrying a knife?’

“If they find a knife in their bedroom, the reality is most people wouldn’t talk to the police about it as they wouldn’t want to criminalize their children but maybe the message ought to be there is help out there.

“Talk to the police, talk to the school. I’d much rather someone say, ‘I’m concerned about my child’ so we can help them.

“Police wouldn’t be looking to prosecute but if you don’t get help and wait for police to find your child out and about with that knife then there will be consequences.”

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As well as preventative measures, Mr Barber also hopes to introduce a new initiative where youths caught with knives can receive quicker help from a youth offending team.

He said: “When a young person is referred to the youth offending team it can take weeks for them to turn up to the school or their home and the young person thinks they got away with it.

“We want additional funding to have a 24-hour service for that team so when there is a call they will be there within an hour and a half after someone being caught.

“It makes a huge difference. It may be that one individual is being exploited or has an addiction, we can them help out.”

When asked about older offenders and how the force is tackling knife crime amongst them, Mr Barber said a lot of incidents are related to County Lines and the force has been ‘good’ at identifying them.

“We are getting better at dismantling these criminal networks,” he said. “We know that drugs will drive most of this violence. The people who are victims are the people involved in that world.

thisisoxfordshire:

“We want to protect everyone but that’s where you see these types of incidents. I try to reassure people that the issue isn’t a wider risk. It’s not always the case but that’s where the violence is.”

He added: “Knife crime is down across Thames Valley because of a very tough approach from the force but one case of serious violence is one too many and that effort will be relentless.”

Mr Bearder said: “It's impossible for me to say what has caused this specific spate of crimes in Oxford but it is clear that knife crime is on the increase.

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“We should not be surprised that young people on the edges of society are turning to violent crime as the seeds of this tragedy were sown by the Conservatives back in 2011.

“When a County Youth Service with dedicated youth workers was scrapped by the Conservative-controlled County Council in 2011.

“I am proud to have been part of the cabinet responsible for the return of that service and I would like the opportunity to use that experience to bring together partners across the Thames Valley in Health, Local Government and the Police and Fire services to establish a systemic approach to resolving this issue. 

It is pointless trying to fight the fire when it is already out of control - prevention is always better than the cure and what we are seeing from the current Crime Commissioner is small pots of investment in youth crime taking place in pilots in discreet areas of the Thames Valley. It’s too little too late.”

Mr Starkey said: “Time and again in my day job as a criminal barrister, I hear young people talking about carrying knives for their ‘own protection’.

“The truth is that far from making them safer it puts them at greater risk of confrontations escalating and being stabbed or ending up in a prison cell.

“Getting that message across to kids from a young age with a mix of schools officers, drama workshops and talks from ex-offenders is vital.

“We also need targeted interventions from youth workers, with 1:1 mentoring to divert young people away from gangs and provide positive role models.

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“This sort of preventative action needs to be done in partnership. That’s why we must strengthen our understaffed neighbourhood policing teams, so our hard working officers have the time to be out in their communities listening to residents, charities working with young people and, most importantly, engaging with young people themselves.

“Of course, other parts of the criminal justice system play their part too. For those carrying knives, robust but intelligent sentencing provides both a deterrent and active intervention to change behaviour and stop offending.

“For the police, the priority is working with others on prevention, and making sure offenders are caught.”