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Police chief blames bad role models for making knife crime seem “normal”

Unsuitable role models and violent music videos are playing their part in making knife crime seem ‘normal’, according to a senior police officer. Detective Chief Superintendent Lee Berry has taken the reins of the Home Office-funded West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP) as its new Director.

He has backed YorkshireLive’s Bin the Knife, Save a Life anti-knife crime and says it is vital communities talk openly about the issues facing them, and reach out for help if they need it.

The officer has raised the issue of music videos in encouraging young people to think that violence and knife crime are ‘normal’. This issue has previously been highlighted by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman who last year raised concerns about a music video for a song by Huddersfield ‘drill’ artist Booter Bee.

The VRP brings together organisations across local communities to tackle the underlying causes of serious violent crime. Det Ch Supt Berry was recently West Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding and Crime Portfolio lead and has also co-ordinated the Force’s response to tackling violence against women and girls.

He spoke to YorkshireLive about knife crime, what drives it and how it can be tackled.

YL: What factors are driving knife crime among young people?

Lee Berry: “What drives health inequalities, also drives serious violence as well… the lack of opportunity, high unemployment, education and training. In relation to the youth, it’s the culture that’s been created in relation to it being accepted more that violence is used on the streets. It’s becoming as if it’s the norm and that’s what we need to change.

The sad thing is that a lot of this is preventable, it’s not inevitable. For me this will be a real focus area for us. Don’t forget these are children, they are still developing, growing and finding their feet into adulthood. We need to be able to engage with them and them to engage with us.

A significant part of this is the role model, the role model within the community. They keep seeing things played out as the norm. Then the wider culture – in particular the music scene and the videos – as if this is the way the youth should behave in relation to violence and the attitudes to women and girls. That’s where we need someone to step into that space and create a different narrative.

One of the key areas at the Violence Reduction Partnership is in relation to creating the counter-narrative. It doesn’t need to be this way. What comes from that is being able to provide that early intervention and support, so people can thrive and not just survive.”

Huge knives seized across West Yorkshire as part of Operation Jemlock (Image: West Yorkshire Police)

YL: You talked about culture, music and music videos. You are fighting a tough fight against that culture aren’t you?

Lee Berry: “It is, yes. This is not local to Kirklees and West Yorkshire, nationally – this is international. This is why we need to look at significant role models that can help us with changing that narrative. That definitely needs to change. This sits around creating opportunity. We need to create pathways that young people can see and believe it. If we don’t have that we get stuck in a rut.

The thing we can’t avoid is the association with drugs that drives knife crime. The gang culture, and drugs are involved, are drivers of serious violent crime. The harm they create is massive but the majority of our young people don’t carry knives.

There are risk factors – poverty, employment, education – that can bring young people into violence. Where there are risk factors, there are protective factors that we need to focus on. This is work we have got going on – that is the role of the Violence Reduction Partnership.”

YL: So what works in Kirklees?

Lee Berry: “We will look to the Youth Endowment Fund about what works. Education, diversion and building a strong ethos through sports or music. It’s those kind of interventions that bring about change. We need to listen to our young people and understand. The majority don’t carry weapons. In Kirklees, we support youth panels, sports, music production, education or parents and teachers, and mentoring.”

YL: What about the hardcore individuals?

Lee Berry: “Those that are really deep rooted (in) violence we have got to have a strong enforcement element. If someone goes to prison, what we have to do is educate because there’s no point if they come out and are no different. Where there is a need we are deploying resources seven days a week at the right time and right place to prevent incidents taking place. It’s a partnership approach because no individual response that will solve this. The significant partner in this is communities.”

YL: What should worried parents do?

Lee Berry: “Parents can reach out to the VRP and schools. Schools are doing fantastic work in Kirklees with the local authority and the police.”

YL: Will we see a reduction in knife crime and possession in Kirklees?

Lee Berry: “We are starting to turn things around. We have seen (in West Yorkshire) nearly a 3 per cent reduction in knife crime. Hospital admissions are down 20 per cent for bladed instrument (injuries) up to June 2023 compared with the previous year.

We are seeing the signs of the partnership approach, but we are conscious that if if was my family member injured in an attack, these figures won’t mean anything. Operation Jemlock (a dedicated anti-violence police team) has seen a 4 per cent increase in arrests for serious violence. Stop/search is up 10 per cent and finding weapons on those searches is up 13%.

We need to be targeting the right people. We are conscious that stop/search could alienate communities but our Jemlock resource are highly trained and focused. My background is as a detective and I have worked in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.

I am currently head of crime and safeguarding at Leeds. I see on a regular basis the impact of knife crime. I have a personal and professional endeavour to end it for our communities because I have seen the devastation that it causes. It rips communities apart. That’s why I am invested in bringing about change.”

(Source: Yorkshire Live)

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