Increase in youth suspects
The number of under-18s in Norfolk identified as suspects or offenders in crimes surged by almost a fifth last year, new figures have revealed.And children as young as 10 have been subjected to stop and search checks by police to see if drugs have been hidden on them.
The number of under-18s in Norfolk identified as suspects or offenders in crimes surged by almost a fifth last year, new figures have revealed.
And children as young as 10 have been subjected to stop and search checks by police to see if drugs have been hidden on them.
In the year September 2008-2009 4,700 under-18s were listed as suspects or offenders in crimes compared to 4,000 the previous year - an increase of 18pc.
But community safety bosses insist the sharp rise is not down to an increase in youth crime but police encountering more youngsters through pioneering safer neighbourhood teams.
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The rise came to light because Norfolk County Council's fire and community protection overview and scrutiny panel is reviewing how effective the council is at keeping young people safe from crime, as victims and perpetrators.
Data from the strategic overview of crime and disorder in Norfolk, produced by police analysts and supported by organisations such as the county council, highlighted the increase.
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Jon Shalom, community safety co-ordinator at County Hall, said: “This does not represent an increase in youth crime but reflects greater engagement of safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs) with young people.
“The number of first-time entrants into the youth justice system has fallen markedly as restorative approaches are used to deal with more minor issues.
“These approaches are shown to have improved victim satisfaction and lower rates of repeat offending.”
In Norfolk 1,100 under-18s entered the youth justice system for the first time for the year ending March 2009 - down 33pc on the previous year.
Mr Shalom added: “This will also be affected by Norfolk's youth inclusion support panel (YISP). This is the early intervention unit within the youth offending team and works with children and young people referred by a wide range of agencies because they are deemed at risk of offending or are involved in anti-social behaviour.”
Norfolk police would not comment on the increase, saying the figures had been released by the county council, not the force.
Norfolk has been blazing a trail with its SNTs which draw on the experiences of communities in deciding which issues the police should tackle.
That has led to police having much more contact with young people so crimes which might have gone unrecorded in the past are now dealt with.
There has also been an increase in the use of restorative justice where young people are made to amend for their misbehaviour without being criminalised.
One example was how three teenage boys in Thetford were made to clean up more than 130 graffiti 'tags' they had daubed around the town.
Three teenage vandals in Harleston also repaid a debt to society after being caught red handed damaging a business property. The 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds were stopped by police from the town's SNT throwing stones at a builder's hut in the town.
The vandals recently completed eight hours of litter picking, gardening and cleaning tasks following discussions between police, the victim, the youngsters' parents and Harleston Town Council.
The number of children stopped and searched by police has sparked concern among the Liberal Democrats, after Simon Wright, the party's parliamentary candidate for Norwich South obtained statistics using the Freedom Of Information Act.
The figures he obtained showed a 55pc increase in stop-and-search power use from 7,588 2003/4 to 11,728 in 2008/9, with youngsters aged 10 and under subject to the powers on 38 occasions during that period, including 10 last year.
Mr Wright said: “The fact that young children under the age of 10 are among those being searched is a worrying sign. Some teenage and older criminals are known to use young children to hide drugs and weapons.”
Police said stop and search was a vital tool in intelligence led policing. Analysis of the times 10-year-olds were searched showed they related “to searches under reasonable grounds for drugs hidden in children's clothing.”