Leeds knife crime: Why understanding Covid impact is vital for West Yorkshire's Violence Reduction Unit

Understanding the impact of coronavirus on serious violence and knife crime is "crucial" in supporting young people at risk, a police chief has said.

Saturday, 17th April 2021, 4:45 pm

Chief Superintendent Jackie Marsh is the director of West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which brings together community organisations to tackle the underlying causes of violent crime.

As the Yorkshire Evening Post's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign looks at ways to prevent an upsurge in knife crime post-lockdown, Chief Supt Marsh said the unit has had to "think outside the box" to continue its work this year.

As well as funding local projects supporting vulnerable young people in Leeds, the unit is allocating cash for research into the impact of the pandemic and school closures on serious violence in the county.

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Chief Superintendent Jackie Marsh, the director of the West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit

Chief Supt Marsh told the YEP: "We will undoubtedly see a change in the dynamics of crime trends and issues of serious violent crime.

"It’s crucial for us to understand what influence Covid has had upon these issues and what approaches we should take to manage the subsequent fallout.

"Exploitation has not gone away, it's only been subdued by the social restrictions of the pandemic.

"It’s vital that we prepare for what could follow and we'll use the research to inform us going forward, so that we can better understand the key drivers and develop our responses.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is looking at ways to prevent an upsurge in knife crime post-lockdown

The VRU funds 24 community initiatives in Leeds, many of which focus on preventative work with children and young people to divert them from criminal exploitation.

This includes the newly launched West Yorkshire and Harrogate Navigator Programme, which is being piloted in Leeds A&E.

The initiative identifies injured young people who are at risk of violent crime, providing them with a personalised package of support through a community links programme.

The VRU-funded Custody Diversion Programme also provides a lifeline for young people who may be falling into criminality, working with the West Yorkshire Liaison and Diversion service to match them with 'SOS caseworkers'.

Chief Supt Marsh said: “The SOS caseworkers are people with lived experiences of serious youth violence and criminality.

"The aim of this collaboration is to engage the young person at what we call that ‘teachable moment’, at the point in their life where they are considering their options and life choices."

Chief Supt Marsh praised the strong partnership between police, community groups and local authorities which have continued to tackle serious violence during the pandemic.

With a £3.3m boost in funding recently announced for the VRU, it has now entered its second year - working on the principle that prevention is better than a cure.

Chief Supt Marsh added: "We've really had to think outside the box to ensure the sustained delivery of interventions continues.

“In partnership with the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, we quickly established the Covid Response Network, to support partners and look at new ways to deliver the interventions.

"It’s been a real priority for us that communities can access the same support and remain feeling safe during the pandemic."

Early intervention and prevention 'more crucial than ever' says Police and Crime Commissioner

The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has echoed that early intervention and education is "more crucial than ever" in tackling knife crime, as we move beyond coronavirus restrictions.

Mark Burns-Williamson OBE, who is also the national The Association Of Police And Crime Commissioners Lead for Tackling Serious Violence, said the recent machete attack in Swarcliffe is a stark reminder of the devastating impact of serious violence.

Mr Burns-Williamson said: "Serious violent crime and knife crime can have life changing consequences for those involved, which intrinsically affects not only those individuals involved, but also families and the wider community.

“You only need to look so far as the headlines of the past few days and the dreadful incident in Swarcliffe, which is now a live investigation, to recognise the challenges and the devastating impact it has."

Mr Burns-Williamson helped to coordinate the launch of the VRU and said the research being carried out is fundamental in preventing serious violence in Leeds.

He added: “The early intervention and prevention methods being employed by the unit are now more crucial than ever before, particularly as we move beyond the social repercussions and restrictions of the Covid pandemic.

“Education and awareness raising also plays a pivotal role and there is research work ongoing within the West Yorkshire VRU and our partners to understand the relationship and influence it has in preventing serious violent crime from occurring in the first place.

“What is clear, is that we must keep moving forward in partnership, investing in community and grass-roots projects, which support young people in particular, diverting them away from harm and exploitation with a long term goal to reduce the often devastating impact of violent crime which is plain to see.”

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