Violent crime, specifically knife crime, will be the thrust of a big Staffordshire debate – as the campaign continues nationally to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing youngsters today.
Young people from both sides of the Atlantic will discuss the dangers and potential remedies in a meeting chaired by Matthew Ellis, the Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and featuring students, crime experts, knife crime victims, and former perpetrators of violence.
The event, which will be held at Staffordshire County Buildings this Thursday (March 8), will feature 17 criminology students from US institutions Ball State University and University North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).
They will be joined by members of the Staffordshire Youth Commission, who were established and funded by Mr Ellis, to look at the big issues facing young people.
The discussion will also feature accounts from Alison Cope, whose son was stabbed outside a Birmingham nightclub in 2013, a one-time convicted gang member Darryl Laycock, and other significant campaigners against violent crime.
Alison has worked tirelessly with schoolchildren and young people to educate about the dangers of knife crime. In 2015 she was awarded the Pride of Birmingham’s Stephen Sutton award, which recognises human endeavour.
Darryl is a former member of a notorious Manchester drug gang and served 12 years in prison for drug and gun offences. Through his former violent lifestyle, Darryl says he lost more than 30 family members and friends. He survived three shootings – receiving 20 bullet wounds – and was also stabbed seven times.
Since leaving prison in March 2011, Darryl has turned his life around and now tries to educate youngsters about the perils of street violence.
This Thursday’s debate will form part of the Staffordshire Youth Commission’s ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of knife crime, one of their key priorities for this year.
Data suggests knife crime remains a major issue nationally, but also locally.
Over the last five years alone it has increased 93 per cent across Staffordshire – data taken from figures for 2013 (508) and 2018 (979), from Staffordshire Police in February 2018. There was a 26 per cent increase in knife crime nationally between June 2016 and June 2017, with a 15.7 per cent rise between April and December last year in Staffordshire alone.
Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis is looking forward to meeting the US students and the guests. He hopes the focus on violent crime will stimulate debate between the youngsters.
‘It’s important the needs, concerns and the voices of youngsters are given a forum by young people themselves.
‘Knife crime figures are troubling. The police cannot arrest their way out of this problem – this is a societal issue and we really want to understand what is behind the rise.
‘It’s important we hear young people’s views on this issue and what they feel can be done to reduce such crime. Why are people carrying and using knives?
‘I look forward to welcoming our guests and the American students. Together with our Youth Commission, I hope they can swap experiences, stories and information to help them get to the bottom of weapon crime.
‘We intend this to be the first of many key topics to be thrashed out by enthusiastic and motivated youngsters as part of the Youth Commission’s work. The platform is there for an informed debate, about a subject matter that means a lot to that particular age group.’
The Youth Commission includes members from a hugely diverse group of organisations across Staffordshire, including the Prince’s Trust, YMCA, Youth Offending Team, Children in Care, schools, colleges and universities.
A recent recruitment drive has seen their membership expanded, with the Youth Commission hoping to make a difference to youth issues, being involved in policing and having a say about how crime is tackled.
The US students, six from Ball University and 11 from UNCW, are visiting as part of an exchange scheme with Keele University. Their itinerary will also include a visit to Staffordshire Police HQ.
Lisa Stoker, global education and Erasmus officer for Keele University, said: ‘I know the US students are really excited to participate in this debate.
‘It will give them a real insight into how violent crime in young people is different in the UK compared to the US. They look forward to engaging in a high level discussion.’
You can follow the debate on Twitter, using #StaffsPCCBigDebate or look out for it on Youtube and Facebook after the event.