Former-superintendent Nick Davies shares his experience of dealing with youth violence, gangs, county lines, anti-social behaviour and property crimes in schools
Having a stable and safe school is what a head teacher and police officer will have in common. I am College Chair of Governors and married to a headteacher, so safe education is a daily conversation in my household.
Since leaving the police, I now work for Allied Universal as a security operations manager on the Kings Cross Estate. The principles for dealing with the unexpected that I used in the police are still valid for delivering a safe 67 Acre site in Kings Cross. The site benefits from its own security team, medics and a state-of-the-art control room; very much its own police service. I believe what I learnt from schools is what we deliver here; lots of communication with stakeholders and always trying and learn to do it better.
A police officer will always have in their mind when they joined to help and protect people. As a Governor I want my students to learn in a safe environment, I know its high on the agenda for the Principle, staff and Governors. I ask that the staff review procedures, test them and systems are modern and utilised.
Balancing the wider Borough policing with individual issues is a challenge. Broadly speaking, concerns are youth violence, gangs, County lines, anti-social behaviour and property crimes at the school. Once priorities are set the tasking of school’s officers dovetails nicely.
Anti-social behaviour, especially at the end of the school day, is a recurring policing challenge. Headteachers are often concerned about reputation of the school, many will post teachers to school gates, bus stops and town centres to monitor behaviour of the students. Safer schools’ officers will focus on what the students fear, where they feel unsafe and their needs. They spread themselves thinly, utilise neighbourhood teams and transport teams to show a presence.
Predicting when and where an inter school confrontation will take place, can be difficult to be prepared for. The best officers have relationships with students and staff allowing them to pick up snippets of information.
Schools which focus on keeping potential risks outside the premises can easily forget about risks that may occur from within.
The local authority will scan all overnight information that may be pertinent to the school, examples will be where siblings have become involved in violence, overnight domestic violence and children coming to notice. They in turn sanitise the information in order to brief head teachers. This allows a more holistic support for the student and better information flow.
Communication is vital
Security starts with good communication with head teachers and staff within the local authority. Each school is unique, sees the threat in a different way and wants a different service from the police. Working with the local authority, we made our “promise” that we can provide a consistent, sustainable and regular police education programme to every Islington school via our Safer Schools Officers. The school through their named schools’ officer can choose to deliver whatever element they wish. The programme is also continuous and evolving as does the threat to schools.
The County lines and violence agenda has risen and so has the input and response. The School Engagement Programme is not set in stone and the Safer Schools Officers can adapt or add sessions to meet the needs of the school, its pupils and especially in response to an incident – working alongside the school’s own designated safeguarding lead.
I felt if the police can deliver and engage then any specific conversations become easier. This was delivered in every school in Islington, even those schools who were initially not too sure have engaged.
As the police command merged into Camden so has the school’s program.
The Safer Schools Officers have all received “presentation skills” training and other training from the Op Trident Engagement Team to ensure we’re offering and presenting quality sessions. Our Safer Schools Officers are in the process of meeting with every head teacher on the borough to personally make this offer, senior officer will attend head teacher meeting and discuss wider threats such as gang violence that are occurring on the Borough.
One of Islington’s greatest strengths in keeping schools and young people safe is its Integrated gangs’ team. London has suffered high levels of knife crime whilst Islington remained relatively stable.
The role of prevention work
Significant prevention work is helping to reduce youth crime with a reduction of numbers of young people entering the Criminal justice system for the first time. These young people are the ones attending the schools. Islington’s Integrated Gang Team (IGT) was established in January 2016. It’s a joint police and local authority team with a wide range of professional and commissioned services including social workers, case workers, probation, clinical psychologist (NHS), Victim Support, St Giles Trust, and Abianda (Girls & Young Women’s Service).
The co-location of the team makes it easier to share appropriate intelligence and information and to co-ordinate a swift response. This helps the police with enforcement – where this is needed – as well as helping to make sure that the safeguarding needs of children and young people at risk of gang involvement are addressed and that they are getting offered the right services and support to enable them to choose a different path.
The team was set up to work with young people identified through sharing of intelligence known to be involved with gangs but in 2018 this has been extended to work with those young people who professionals consider are vulnerable to gang affiliation. This could be because of their friendship group or because they have a family member already involved.
The IGT has a high level of expertise and skill sharing is an important aspect of the work, for example the clinical psychologist works with young people but also supports the team to develop appropriate and meaningful approaches suited to young people who have been involved in gang lifestyles.
They work with young people holistically to support them in housing, health, employment and education and are continually developing new ways to address with young people the consequences for them of getting involved with gang and violent crime in order to deter them.
The team also focuses on prevention work through leading on the delivery of gang prevention and knife crime awareness work in schools and offering consultancy to other professionals working with young people.
At risk of gang-involvement
The IGT has worked with 113 young people during 2017/18 including those at risk of gang involvement and victims. 25 young people successfully exited gangs during 2017/18 through a range of support and engagement in education and employment opportunities. The work of the IGT continues to have strong support from senior managers, schools and councillors. They work across the council, police, health and the range of agencies working together across Islington is making a difference to young people’s lives and the beginning to have an impact on reducing gang related violence in Islington.
One of the constants are weapons sweeps in and around schools; we are always open about what we are doing and ask the community to join in. Schools expect to see officers poking around in flower beds and in nooks and crannies; it has very much become the norm. Analysis of where we find things and the links to gang territories, all knife seizure mapped and hotspots further analysed, where proximity to schools was drawn out and further searches and engagement undertaken. This analysis was based on 1,465 weapons sweeps carried out by schools, neighbourhood and gangs’ officers.
Forty-nine positive outcomes mean this can be hard work with little visible reward, but officers never lose sight that this is a preventative measure. Many other things such as drugs, dangerous items and stolen property are also recovered.
Nick Davies is security operations manager at King’s Cross Estate Services