Year seven students learn about the impact and risks of knife crime as part of a ‘Peace Week’ education scheme piloted in Garston for the very first time.
Officers and staff from the Watford Community Safety Unit organised a number of guest speakers to deliver presentations to Year 7 students throughout the week at Francis Combe Academy.
The sessions are designed to build self-esteem, alter negative behaviour and provide children with the tools needed to avoid high-risk conflict.
Two dedicated Youth Crime Police Community Support Officers were also there throughout the week, building on their rapport with the youngsters.
On Thursday, May 9, families were invited to a presentation at the school where anti-knife crime campaigner Alison Cope spoke about the devastating impact knives has had on her life.
Alison tragically lost her 18-year-old son, Joshua Ribera, in September 2013 after he was stabbed outside a Birmingham night club. Her emotional story hit home with the audience, leaving many in tears.
The next day, Alison met with Watford Chief Inspector Matt Phillips, Safer Neighbourhood Inspector Simon Mason and partners from Watford Borough Council to talk about the wider strategy in place to tackle youth and knife-related crime in Watford.
She then delivered her presentation to a group of police officers from Watford, Three Rivers and Hertsmere, plus representatives from Watford Borough Council.
Investigator Anthony Bradshaw from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Operation Mantis team also gave an input on county lines, which involves criminals exploiting children in order to get them to sell and transport drugs between counties.
The young people affected are often vulnerable, and are groomed to hide drugs, weapons, mobile phones and cash. The attendees were given the signs to look out for in young people who may be being exploited.
Watford Safer Neighbourhood Inspector, Simon Mason said: “While we don’t have a critical knife crime issue in Watford, we realise that in the current climate there is a need to educate and support our young people to enable them to make positive choices.
“We know the majority of young people are sensible, mature and law-abiding and will go on to achieve great things.
“For example, we conducted a knife-arch operation at West Herts College last September and a total of 3,000 students were searched. We were pleased to report that not one weapon was found.
“It was also a great opportunity for us to positively engage with the students and reiterate the message that carrying a weapon is not the right choice.
“However we need to be there for those young people who may, for whatever reason, need extra guidance and support.
“This scheme is the result of months of dedicated hard work from my team, and I believe it will make a real difference. We are looking forward to continuing our prevention work with more schools going forward.”
Elected Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor said: “Knife crime has no place in our town. Although we don’t have the same problems as some parts of the country, it’s really important that our young people understand from an early age the dangers of this type of crime.
“I will continue to work closely with the police to ensure that those who live, work and learn in Watford are safe.”
Deborah Warwick, Principal at Francis Combe Academy, said: “When we were asked to be involved in this pilot was did not hesitate to accept.
“We have a full appreciation and understanding of the challenges young people have to overcome in today’s society and therefore have adopted a relentless approach to educating them in how to help themselves to make the right life choices when confronted with difficult decisions linked to knife crime, peer pressure and outside influences.
“We were delighted to welcome our guest speakers to Francis Combe Academy, the feedback from our young people, and the impact of the presentations, has been extremely positive.”
The success of the first Peace Week is just part of the wider work being done in Watford to tackle youth crime head on.
Since May 2018, 593 people under the age of 25 were stopped and searched in Watford with only 24 of those had a weapon, some of which were knives, seized from them.
For more information, you can visit the Home Office’s website gov.uk/crime-justice-and-law/knife-gun-and-gang-crime or Crimestoppers’ Fearless website here at fearless.org/en