Interviews

Crimestoppers and Fearless

by Mark Rowe

When we talk about crime and detection in this country, the role played by the Crimestoppers charity which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary should never be overlooked, writes Crawford Chalmers, pictured.

The 0800 555 111 number gives people the power to speak up about crime or criminals at any time day or night throughout the whole year including bank holidays. Briefly, Crimestoppers has received to date almost two million actionable pieces of information which has led to 145,000 individuals being arrested and charged, £140m of stolen goods being recovered and drugs seized worth nearly £35m. I well remember the part it played not long after being formed in an investigation I was involved in during my past life with the CID ( and we don’t have to go into how long ago that was!). Perhaps not recognised enough is Crimestoppers’ Most Wanted campaign in the UK and abroad. Since it was introduced in 2005, there have been over 4,230 arrests.

Changed UK
All of this is impressive but we need to bear in mind that society in the UK in the 21st century has changed greatly and it is no good reminiscing about the “good old days” of policing and law enforcement (actually in reality many of those days were not so good!). The fact is that attitudes towards contacting the police have changed greatly and phoning Crimestoppers has proved itself gradually over the years an invaluable tool in providing information to police. We face a never ending media litany of the involvement of young people in crimes affecting communities up and down the country. We all know that law enforcement alone will not be able to solve the problem of young people becoming involved in crime. To state the obvious, education is probably the main ingredient in convincing young people in our country to make choices which take them away from such involvement.

Fearless

Which brings me to the launch last year of Fearless – the youth service of Crimestoppers. I would sum it up in simple terms as helping young people understand how crimes impact upon their lives and how they can speak up about them to Crimestoppers, with the crucial guarantee of remaining anonymous and staying safe. Delivered by outreach workers with appropriate training and qualifications as well as providing access to the fearless.org website, the target audience in schools and youth groups is the 11 to 16 age group which reflects wide research showing their vulnerability to being ‘groomed’ to take part in crime not least online and via social media. Crucially Fearless guarantees the same anonymity which Crimestoppers has always done with the advantage of giving information through the website if required. The website is where young people can access non-judgemental information and advice about crime and criminality. Every aspect of crime is covered in the Fearless programme and many are the types of crime we are only too well aware of in recent times. These include:

Knife crime – A hot topic across the country especially in London and other major cities. The Fearless programme explores the wider social, physical and physiological effects of this type of criminality. Scotland Yard chief Cressida Dick was recently quoted as saying that knife crime fuelled by drugs was at its worst in her 35 year career in London. Understanding such links is all part of how the Fearless message is put across. To highlight the problem, police released images of the staggering numbers of blades seized from children under 16 in just one two month period.

Child Sexual Exploitation – A delicate subject to discuss with schools and youth groups at the best of times but it is essential to educate young people on recognising the signs of this issue and how to report it – anonymously if necessary and without fear. The extent of this exploitation is often not fully realised. Some criminal gangs, usually as part of gang initiation, are involved in sex crimes and there has been a significant increase in cases of gang rape in the UK over the past five years.

Street gangs – Whilst most criminal street gangs are mainly male, the role and relationship of girls involved is very complex. Girls affiliated with gangs are often used by multiple gang members to establish status, seek revenge and even used to lure rival gang members in honey traps. There are also some girl-only street gangs operating in the UK. Fearless recognises that if involved with such gangs it can be very difficult for members to leave. There are many organisations that can help and support young people with gang exit strategies and these form part of the Fearless programme, with the website also including a number of related links for seeking help.

County Lines – City gangs forcibly take over the drugs trade in smaller towns using children and young people. County lines operators often groom and use young people as ‘runners’, making them carry drugs or money to and from the areas where the operation has been established. This is often via train but also by car and coaches. It is also not unusual for children to be forced to stay over at a local ‘trap house’ and made to distribute drugs in the area.

Website

Fearless is a website where young people can access non-judgemental information and advice about crime and criminality, and of course provides a safe place to give information about crimes such as these 100 per cent anonymously. This is being done increasingly online by completing an anonymous form where they are asked to give as much information as possible because they cannot be contacted back for more information. They are advised that if they are using or sharing a public computer they should delete their page history so no one will know they have sent information. A real indication of how society and communities in the UK have changed is the fact that if someone filling in the form prefers to use their mother language, then they are encouraged to do so because there is a translation service with over 150 languages!

Of course it cannot all be good news. I am aware and it is not surprising, and understandable up to a point, that there are schools and youth groups who do not want to receive a Fearless education session. They think it will affect their reputation, or parents are resistant because their child is too young at 11 to 16. I can understand where they are coming from, but we are talking about the future generations of this country who are growing up in a far more complex world than I ever did, and deserve at the very least to be aware of what is happening. What is surely hoped for with the Fearless project is that any child or young person who takes part in an outreach session or logs into the website will in time ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ ( Mahatma Gandhi)

Visit www.fearless.org.

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