On Saturday afternoon we met up briefly with Sergeant James Main of Humberside Police’s “B” division to find out more about the respect program operated in the Scunthorpe region.
The program started in 2010 and has recently been featured in the Yorkshire Post as an example of good community policing which has had an impact on crime prevention specifically targeted at 10 to 18 year olds.
The scheme targets minor first time offenders, and aims to reduce anti social behaviour before it becomes a serious issue. Figures show that in the past, if a young person was involved in a minor offence at an early age, then there was a 27% chance of them reoffending and becoming one of the police’s “regulars”.
The objective of the scheme is to reduce juvenile crime through a strategy of prevention and early intervention. The crimes the scheme is targeted at includes minor damage, theft, assault and public order. The scheme aims not only to prevent teenagers from getting criminal records, but also very importantly to reduce the number of victims of crime.
The scheme consists of two key strategies. The first is to provide teenagers with an alternative to standing around on street corners, congregating in residential areas and being generally “bored” by introducing a series of activities on Friday evenings including football coaching and street dance.
The second aspect of the strategy looks at how first time offenders in the 10 to 18 year age range are dealt with by the police for minor offences.
In the past, if a young person was for example caught shop lifting, they would be arrested, taken to the police station, and have received at very least a caution (referred to as a reprimand for under 18’s) and would have ended up with a criminal record.
The police now take a different approach. Firstly the suspect is “bailed” by the police and taken to their home address instead of a police station. The Youth Offending Services then become involved, make a home visit and assess any additional family needs.
The young person then has to attend a victim awareness course, which is intended to educate them about the affect their crime has had on the victim. This is a very important stage in teaching the offender not to reoffend, and in helping to reduce crime overall. In most cases at the end of this training course they offender will write a letter of apology to the victim.
Its not just a case of sitting in a classroom and then saying you’re sorry though. Each offender will then have to carry out a community service project. This is typically something which will involve hard graft, and be of value to the community. Projects have included snow clearing in winter, gardening duties, rubbish clearing, church yard clean ups and painting and decorating.
The final stage of the respect process is a trial. The offender is held in the police cells at Scunthorpe station, a particularly unpleasant experience by all accounts, and will then appear in front of a bench of magistrates in the court next door, witnessed by their parents.
The three magistrates present will question the offender, and will then have the offender sign an Acceptable Behaviour Contract.
Once this process is completed, the offender is released, without a criminal record. Sergeant Main told us that this program was clearly working as the level of reoffending had dropped from 27% in 2009 to just 7% in 2010 once the program was commissioned. So far this year 34 youths have been through the program, with just 2 of them committing a second offence.
Clearly this is a very valid program, not just in terms of young people avoiding criminal records for stupid or reckless acts of youth, but most importantly in reducing the overall incidents of crime, and therefore the number of victims, generally.
Sergeant Main did however stress that this program was only ever applied to minor, first time offences, and that the cooperation of the victim was sought before the program was entered into. Recent surveys carried out amongst thos involved asked participants to rate the service giving it points out of ten. On average, the offenders scored the scheme 8, parents of the offender 9 and the victims 10 out of 10.
Schemes such as this can however only operate successfully with the buy in of the whole community. The scheme actively patrols known trouble spots from early evening, and has confiscated over £20,000 of alcohol from under 18’s in the Scunthorpe area. Recent weeks has also seen off licences tipping off the police where they believe that alcohol is being resold to under 18’s which has resulted in two on the spot fines being issued in just the last week alone.
The most recent innovation by the police to tackle underage drinking is the introduction of alcohol testing strips. Lots of teenagers were going out with alcohol in soft drinks containers, so the police now test drinks, and confiscate them if they are found to contain alcohol.
We’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on crime and anti social behaviour, so please, either leave a comment below, or alternatively contact Sergeant James Main directly via twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/search/sgtjamesmain