Funding for third year in a row for pioneering unit driving down violent crime and exploitation

Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has won funding of £880,000 for the third consecutive year for Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) following its outstanding success in helping to drive down Serious Youth Violence in the county by almost 9% to March 2020, the halting of firearms deaths in the county last year and of gun use by gangs from August to the beginning of January.

“From the beginning of August 2020 to January, Bedfordshire Police has had no reports of firearms use directly attributed to the county’s gangs or Organised Crime Groups. No fatal shot was fired for the whole of last year in a county which has been plagued by gang related use of guns. The dramatic fall in victims and plateauing of knife crime admissions to Bedfordshire’s Hospitals show conclusively that gang violence and exploitation have continued to fall over the past year in Bedfordshire and the specialist VERU has played a massive part in this,” said the PCC.

“The twin approaches – of disruption and diversion from gangs – through the VERU with police and partners located together, sharing information as never before, as well as strong police enforcement against those who will not be diverted from such violent crime have worked hand in glove to ensure that Serious Youth Violence in Bedfordshire fell by 9% in the year to March 2020, before the pandemic. This means some 200 young people are still alive today or living without life-changing injuries.

“I am delighted to be able to announce that this success has been recognised by the Home Office and that the specialist VERU has been funded for a third year to continue its absolutely vital work in trying to halt what had been an escalating pattern of violence, where this generation in Bedfordshire is concerned.

“Police could not do this through arrests alone and the relationship with our partners through the VERU is vital, from youth offending services to health and hospitals and local authorities to charities. Every single one plays a part in bringing their information to the table to work on the core purpose of protecting young people and preventing them being victimised.”

This takes the total amount of funding won by the PCC to tackle Serious Violence in Bedfordshire to more than £15 million over the past three years, with Special Grants also won from the Home Office of £4.571m, £3m and £2.9m to meet the costs, including doubling of the police’s specialist unit tackling gun, gang and knife crime, Op Boson. The force has also received ’surge funding’ of £1.38m in 2019/20 and £908,000 this year to focus its patrols on hotspot areas for violent crime which are pinpointed with the help of academic analysis, known as Op Sparkler.

The VERU has invested more than £500,000 of its funding so far into more than 50 grassroots projects which have reached hundreds of young people across the county, many of whom were able to alter their ways of working to continue to reach out and engage with young people during the pandemic.

The VERU hosts a bespoke youth intervention specialist (YIS) team which offers specific support to children, young people and families affected by issues like County Lines drug dealing and Serious Youth Violence.

The unit has also led efforts to coordinate the activities of different agencies in this area, ensuring the police, councils, charities and healthcare providers are working more closely together and sharing information than has previously been the case, with the unit based on the police estate.

“I cannot fail to highlight the exceptional day to day leadership of the team which is shown by its Project Manager, Kimberley Lamb, who has really put the VERU on the map reaching into communities and to young people at risk and coordinating the work with partners. She has been quite exceptional,” said Commissioner Holloway. 

Since the VERU launched two years ago it has worked with young people themselves, offered advice and support to parents and drawn partners together in an unprecedented way to tackle the issues of violence, knife carrying and gang membership. It has:

* Delivered training to almost 400 professionals working in areas such as the police, local authorities, health, probation, education, youth offending and residential care placements.

* Received 133 referrals to the VERU YIS team, which is currently working directly with 76 young people.

* Delivered child criminal exploitation awareness and diversionary talks to more than 600 young people across Bedfordshire, delivered with the help of a member of staff from Luton’s A&E department and the mother of an 18-year-old murdered in the town.

* Created a bespoke series of guidance documents around different forms of exploitation to be used by frontline staff across the county.

* Launched the VERU Village online directory of support services for those at risk of or experiencing exploitation.

* Established a data and intelligence group around violence and exploitation to better understand the local picture, drawing on information from a range of different organisations.

Other forthcoming projects include the VERU Youth Voices series of podcasts, a digital conference aimed at parents and practitioners as well as playing a leading role in the Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation campaign.

Other recent funding successes for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner include £882,000 for two wide ranging Safer Streets projects in Bedford and Luton to improve community safety, £46,000 for Domestic Abuse support services and £93,323 to projects for victims of sexual assault.

Bedfordshire’s VERU is one of 18 violence reduction units nationally that will share a £35.5m pot from Government.

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