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Police commissioner calls for joint approach to tackling violent crime in South Yorkshire

Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings

The key to stemming the rising tide of violence in South Yorkshire is agencies working together to dismantle gangs and prevent the next generation from becoming embroiled, according to the county's Police and Crime Commissioner.

Speaking after the shooting of a 17-year-old boy on the Woodthorpe estate on Monday night, Dr Alan Billings said the young age of victims of recent gun and knife attacks was 'worrying'.

A boy, 17, was shot in Woodthorpe on Monday

A boy, 17, was shot in Woodthorpe on Monday

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Monday's victim suffered life threatening injuries in the shooting, which came less than three weeks after a 15-year-old boy was stabbed to death in an attack on the Lowedges estate.

Dr Billings said an increase in violent crime in South Yorkshire over recent months mirrors a national trend.

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He said South Yorkshire is unlikely to see an increase in police officers over the next few years, so officers need to work closely with the public and voluntary sectors to tackle the issue together.

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Dr Billings said police 'enforcement' alone is not the answer but recognising and preventing 'criminal grooming' would prevent gang leaders from recruiting new members.

"There has to be a multi-agency approach but everyone is under pressure so we must not shift the problem from the police to someone else," he said.

"Policing has its part to play in that we have to catch offenders and come down hard on them but we have to bring in all the other parts of the public sector and voluntary sector."

He said there needs to be a greater 'understanding' of the reasons behind the increase in violent crime, so that police and partners can 'get upstream' and prevent it.

"We would all like to see more police officers but I think we will be lucky to hold onto the numbers we have got. I do not see large numbers of extra officers coming down the track any time soon," he said.

"It is no good saying 'we need more of this and more of that,' knowing it probably won't happen. We have to do better with what we have. We need to be smarter and more efficient with what we have got."

He said a number of factors are behind the increase in violence on the streets, including vulnerable children who have struggled at or not attended school being targeted by gangs to boost their numbers and expand their criminal networks.

"Young people who have not been good at attending school sometimes feel they won't get a job and are vulnerable and get drawn into gangs who pay them attention, give them money and a bit of status. This is criminal grooming. The gangs then start to ask them to do things such as carrying packages and then they are drawn into this very dangerous world.

"They need to realise that those behind these gangs won't put themselves at risk. They will put them at risk. That's how it works."

He said a lack of 'youth provision' in communities is also a 'significant factor' in the increase in violent crime.

"The youth service has virtually disappeared. We don't have youth clubs or detached youth workers like we used to - it has largely gone. We have to find meaningful activities for young people to do because they have largely vanished because of austerity," he added

"I pay tribute to those clubs which are still present in communities and I will help them as much as I can."

Dr Billings praised South Yorkshire Police for the response of officers and detectives to a spate of violent attacks over recent weeks, including a wave of five murders in less than two weeks.

"Officers are really stretched and people are working long hours and under a lot of pressure but they are coping," he said.

"It sometimes means officers having to be brought in from other parts of the organisation to support them but they are on top of the job.

"I think we have some of the best investigators in the country. Other forces would have a lot to learn from their experience, expertise and professionalism."

Dr Billings said he recently visited South Yorkshire's major incident team to thank those involved for their efforts in detecting serious crimes.