Last week I found myself at home self-isolating after testing positive for COVID. I am fortunate my symptoms were very mild at what remains a tragic and troubling time and am glad to be back at work.
On Monday night we were all touched by the bravery of Keon Lincoln’s mum and sister as they led our appeal for help as we continue the investigation into his murder. We are committed to helping them secure justice.
Serious youth violence is not new. Last week we saw four young men sent to prison for the ferociously violent murder of Keelan Wilson in Wolverhampton in 2018. We have seen some awful crimes in Coventry, Birmingham and across our region and the country involving children and adolescents.
Murders have been committed following the slightest dispute. The level of violence in many cases has been extreme. The lack of any consideration of the consequences for victims or by offenders, even for themselves, has been totally absent.
Childlike reactions have been channelled into violence. Lives lived solely in the moment; but that is how children think.
As a police service our first duty is to ensure we bring people to justice. As a young officer in Manchester in the 1990s the corrosive effects of failing to secure justice in murders ramped up a sense of impunity. We are fortunate our homicide teams are effective and we have a very good record of bringing murderers to justice, something we are working hard to do in this case.
Investigations are also proactive. I am very proud of the joint work we have seen between NPUs, Force CID, Intelligence and the ROCU as we employ covert and overt strategies at dangerous gangs. We have seen great success in recent years.
The County Lines task force is actively attacking drugs lines so often exploiting the young. A huge chunk of our uplift we have already announced will go into proactive teams aimed at gangs and serious criminality on the back of dedicated gang teams in Birmingham already in place.
There is a tier of very serious assaults and stabbings where, often because of a lack of cooperation from victims, cases do not get to court. It is important more of these cases result in justice.
As a region we were the first part of England to adopt a public health approach to violence and that has now been adopted by the government’s funding of Violence Reduction Units including here in the West Midlands. The interventions in our hospitals, schools and communities are strong and have been subject to significant investment by the PCC this year. They are evidence based and community focused and offer much hope. This work will bear fruit and is in its early days. Parts of the region, such as Coventry, have made much progress already.
Despite all this we still saw Keon’s murder.
There is a serious societal issue with some young men’s violent behaviour. Too often simple answers are traded on how to address this. There is no one reason. Belonging, excitement, social media, drugs, money, lack of choice all play a part to varying degrees.
There is no question we have Lost Boys in our cities who the only option is for the police to place them behind bars. There are also many more who are deeply loved and cared for by parents where there is still time. After events like last week we all need to step up a gear because no one on their own can stop this.
At a time where our young people are out of school and college we have to redouble our efforts to safeguard our young people. Parents: be intrusive in your children’s lives, who they hang out with, where their money comes from, what they look at on their phone.
Schools have a critical role in these trying times to keep a line of sight on their pupils. Those involved in gangs and county lines need to be seen as facing the same risks of those vulnerable to sexual exploitation by safeguarding agencies. As we build back after the pandemic the opportunity of good, fulfilling and rewarding work has to compete with the quick buck. Everyone has a duty to tell the police when drugs, guns and knives are in play.
West Midlands Police will work hard to bring Keon’s killers to justice. We will carry on targeting those who put guns on the street and play a part in gangs. More resources are going into this fight as new officers are recruited. We also need to build trust in young people, often from ethnic minority communities that we are there to help them with the issues they face.
We like to celebrate youth in our region with more under 25s than anywhere in the country. They are our future and more than ever we all need to be looking out for our young people.