Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner said safer streets and public safety should “start in the home and not in the Home Office”.
Festus Akinbusoye told the Local Democracy Reporting Service volunteering as a mentor to young offenders in prison “several years ago” was one of the drivers for standing as a police and crime commissioner (PCC).
“This was a parenting programme for young boys who themselves were parents to children a number of them had not yet met,” he said.
“I recall vividly a pattern that emerged to me after a few weeks of talking with these often bright young boys.
“They had all, without exception, experienced a combination of different events in their short lives,” he said.
The PCC said these events included domestic abuse, violence, bullying, undiagnosed learning difficulties, and mental health issues.
“One exchange with a young boy aged about 15 drove me to tears when I returned to my car that evening,” the PCC said.
“Tommy (not his real name) was in prison for armed robbery and had a daughter that he had never seen.
“He told me that he saw his mother get beaten up daily by her partner,” he said
“Tommy” shared that from when he was nine-years-old his mother warned him his behaviour at school would mean ending up “just like his father”, who was in prison for much of “Tommy’s” life.
The PCC said: “A few years later his mother was proved right.
The PCC explained that “Tommy’s” experience is not an isolated one when talking about youth offending and knife crime in Britain.
“Violence has become normalised,” he said.
“To put it bluntly, too many of our young people are growing up around violence in the home, on the streets, and inescapably, on their phones.”
He said the increase in knife-related homicides often leads to calls for more interventions in schools, youth clubs, sports activities, or even more police stop and search.
“However, I fear we may be getting our approach and focus entirely wrong,” he said.
“Maybe the young people are not the problem – maybe the adults are,” he said.
The PCC said a former Metropolitan Police commander told a Cross-Party Parliamentary Commission he had “never investigated” a tragedy involving a young person where the perpetrator had not been exposed to domestic abuse.
“This is why I welcome the government’s investment on tackling domestic abuse,” the PCC said.
“More and more police forces are taking this seriously too on the back of police and crime commissioners and chief constable’s work on tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG).
“This will not only benefit women and girls, it will also benefit our future generation, male and female.
But there is much more to do,” he said.
“Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire recently won Home Office funding of over £3 million to focus on domestic abuse perpetrators.
“Maybe, just maybe, if we can spare more children from witnessing any more violence at home, we might just start scratching the surface on reducing violence on our streets.
“Surely, safer streets start in the home, and public safety should start in the home; not in the Home Office.
“More than ten years later, I still wonder what happened to “Tommy”,” he said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter