Police approach is helping keep children on the straight and narrow

DCI Gary Boyd of Forth Valley's Public Protection Unit. Picture: Michael Gillen
DCI Gary Boyd of Forth Valley's Public Protection Unit. Picture: Michael Gillen

The crack police unit tasked with keeping our children safe has another priority when it comes to youngsters – preventing them from becoming the criminals of tomorrow.

The Public Protection Unit (PPU) deals with all the horrible crimes none of us likes to think about such as rape, child sexual abuse and domestic abuse – crimes society finds despicable.

However, someone has to do the job and in the Forth Valley area it’s down to the specially trained officers and staff of the PPU and part of its focus is on stopping crime before it even occurs.

Part of this approach is reaching children from problematic backgrounds who come into contact with police through crime.

The man in charge of the PPU, Detective Chief Inspector Gary Boyd, said: “One of the cornerstones of our prevention business is our risk and concern hub MASH (Multi Agency Assessment Screening Hub).

“Every time any police officer in Forth Valley attends and incident, comes across an individual on the street, any time there is any interaction with a police officer with any member of the public in Forth Valley, that officer is trained to identify risk and concern.

“One important aspect of what we do is early and effective intervention.

“Children who are offending, low level offending, rather than allow them to go through the justice system that may possibly have them end up with a criminal record, we look to divert them, if we can, to give these kids support rather than punishment and the figures are quite startling.

“Since April, 300 children and young people, who could have been reported to the Children’s Reporter or prosecuted, we’ve managed to divert 30 per cent of them, and out of that 30 per cent, we have a non re-offending rate of almost 80 per cent.

“We have prevented these children from being unnecessarily criminalised and a criminal record which might affect their prospects in later life.”

Police now work with a number of partner agencies as a matter of course in a bid to help kids who are struggling as a result of tough circumstances at home.

DCI Boyd added: “To provide this support we work with partners in social work, health, education and housing. The police recognise that we are just one of a number in this process so we carry out the screening to identify the individual, to identify the risk, and then we have either a ‘round the child’ meeting, or we have an inter-agency referral discussion and it’s there that the decisions are made.

“It might be an educational issue, it might be a housing issue, it might be a support for a family member, it might be support for a vulnerable adult living in the family that the child feels they are a carer for.

“There’s a wide range of mechanisms we can put in place with our partners and it’s all about preventing a young child being drawn into the criminal justice system, preventing a young child from getting to a point where they feel if they get a criminal record that’s it, it’s affecting their life chances.”

Early effective intervention is the way forward to prevent crime

Police say since April this year almost 300 young people have become involved in the criminal justice system locally and their early effective intervention (EEI) process has successfully diverted almost 100.

Of the 100 youngsters who benefitted from the process, there is non re-offending rate of almost 80 per cent.

DCI Boyd says this way of working is giving young people a “second chance”.

He said: “The EEI process in Forth Valley is well established and involves working closely with local multi-agency partners to deliver an innovative approach to tackling youth offending in Forth Valley.

“This process identifies suitable young people who have been involved in low level crime and looks at ways to influence their behaviour and divert them from criminality, effectively avoiding the criminalisation of young people and providing support opportunities and options to ensure no further re-offending.

“Where appropriate, this gives young people a second chance, diverts them from becoming further involved in criminality and has wider benefits for the communities and families within Forth Valley.”

Officers in the Forth Valley submit more than 300 reports involving crimes affecting vulnerable people every single week.

The concerns are sent to the Multi Agency Assessment Screening Hub (MAASH). These reports can be anything from hate crimes and homophobia to domestic violence.

DCI Boyd added: “This process identifies the risk or concern and allows the full resources of Police Scotland either solely or collectively with partners working to protect people living and working in Forth valley to be targeted at removing, reducing or mitigating the risks present.”