Children taking 'weapons' into schools in Northamptonshire through fear of gang reprisals - top officer reveals
A police operation last year captured 15 guns from gangs on the streets and an Inspector for Northamptonshire Police has said teens involved in crews have taken weapons into school out of fear and for their own protection.
Inspector Daryl Lyon for Wellingborough and East Northants Neighbourhoods team has served in the force for 11 years and is the lead for a social media campaign tackling gang crime in the county.
The #gangsruinlives campaign is using social media, as well as printed handouts, to raise awareness and offer advice to teenagers and those around them in how to recognise that someone they know might be getting involved in gang culture and what they can do to report it and get support.
The campaign has been developed to reach teenagers and their families by using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and is currently being targeted to people in areas including Wellingborough, Rushden and eastern district.
On asking whether teens are more likely to opt for a knife as opposed to a 'punch-up' he said the force is even seeing guns in gangs. "Yes, well we are seeing firearms, we took 15 firearms off the streets within gangs," he said.
"People will readily carry knives and other forms of weapons and they can spill over into school and something that can be carried for protection, or feeling that they are fearful of others. They are then immediately kicked out of school and are set onto a path of difficulties."
He doesn't believe gang crime is on the rise but believes "it's fairly static but ever prevalent and also it’s actually invisible.
"To the general public gang life doesn’t exist. We have surgeries and people come into speak to us about environmental issues but very rarely gang issues.
"Generally it only affects one gang member or another and it’s often behind closed doors and it’s not that visible because gangs don’t want to attract witnesses."
The social media campaign has resulted in more than 1,500 hits to Northamptonshire Police and Crimestoppers’ websites and Northamptonshire Police monitor trends through what links readers click on.
Inspector Lyon says the force is now working on 'safeguarding aspects' and have worked closely with police Scotland to understand how they can build a ‘best practise’ programme within the next year to support people who have been in a gang and have found new employment as it's likely they'll be on a lower income.
On asking him whether estates are a breeding ground for gangs? He said: "Yes, estates are where there are lots of people they know and lots of people interested in getting involved in gangs.
"Put yourself in the shoe of a young 14-year-old who has perhaps had some difficulties at school and his aspirations are fairly low then gangs give them all the things they want very quickly. For example, instant gratification and instant recognition and they have some degree of a hierarchy in the structure within a gang. Members get money and cash really easily and quickly.
"'The attraction away from gangs... what is that attraction?' If you're being shown a very positive way of gang life and that’s all you know then it’s difficult for somebody to say ‘actually hold off on that, there’s this other way over here.’
"Part of our message is to say there isn't just this aspect of gangs, gang life isn't about all the good stuff that you might be able to see today, there are actually all these other things, the violence that comes with it, you’ll be stepping on other gang members toes and that will cause an issue for you."
Inspector Lyon said that youngest gang member he has known is 12 years old and the main violence the force saw last year involved teens around 14,15,16 years of age.
On asking what is one of the main reasons people would join a gang? He said: "It's almost like you get a perfect storm of stuff that comes together. Often it starts with poor interaction with school, we have early intervention programmes in the force, where we try and keep people in school, the risk is much lower.
"If you keep people in school that's the best place they can be. If a school is the only place teens are meant to be throughout that week then suddenly they have a lot more time and the risk increases, that's not, of course, to say everybody in that situation will go onto that but it’s an entry into that kind of lifestyle."
Information can be found at http://northants.police.uk/page/gang-related-crime and anyone concerned about the gang-related activity can call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Always call 999 if a crime is in progress or someone is in immediate danger.