Published 22 August 2018

Charities, community leaders and the emergency services have vowed to work closer together to cut violent crime in Kent.

Representatives of around 20 organisations met in Kings Hill on 17 August at the invitation of the Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott as part of his Violence Reduction Challenge. And, during two hours of discussions, they agreed in principle to focus their joint efforts on tackling gangs using county lines to deal drugs.

Mr Scott said afterwards:

‘There are 55 different types of violent crimes encompassing everything from malicious communications and violence without injury to serious sexual offences and murder; but there was a clear consensus at this first advisory panel meeting that we should direct our attention towards those people causing the most serious violence towards the most vulnerable victims.’

Councillor Adrian Gulvin from Medway Council told the meeting:

‘I feel the gangs and drugs issue is key, because their tentacles reach far and wide. It encompasses so many other aspects [of violent crime] that we can get a big bang for our buck.’

Chief Executive Ann Millington from Kent Fire and Rescue Service said:

‘We’ve never been great in Kent at having a universal strategy. We’ve been talking about it for donkeys’ years but never brought together a strategy which has been seriously adopted.’

The panel also discussed external factors which can, in some cases, make a vulnerable young person more likely to turn to crime – such as having witnessed violence in the home or on social media.

Caroline Pinchbeck from the Diocese of Canterbury asked:

‘How do we equip parents and wider society with the knowledge to identify and tackle these issues?’

Bali Rodgers from the charity Refocus, which works to divert young people away from crime, believed many Kent schools were reluctant to talk openly about knife crime and London-originated gang culture because they feared for their reputation in the community.

Carly Davies from The Prince’s Trust, which also works with vulnerable young people, said it would be beneficial for the advisory panel to gather more data on the profiles of violent offenders so members could look at improving the effectiveness of early intervention work, and alternatives for criminalising young people.

Meanwhile Toby Williams from the National Farmers’ Union pointed out rural areas required different approaches to “nip issues in the bud” before they escalate into violence.

Ultimately, Kent Police Deputy Chief Constable Tony Blaker welcomed the enthusiasm from all partners to work together.

He said:

‘We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We need to address some of these wider issues which is not something the police can do alone.’

However, there was an agreement that simply throwing money at the problem would not work either.

The PCC cautioned:

‘We can say “we will spend money here” or “we will copy that model we’ve seen there” but there’s no point if we don’t know if the scheme will be effective here in Kent.’

The issues raised will be put to the smaller Violence Reduction Challenge steering group in September. The next advisory panel meeting is then scheduled for 19 October in Canterbury.