An evolving illegal drug market and the exploitation of children to feed it are among the factors driving an increase in the number of youth violence incidents in Camden in the past year, according to a report from the borough’s Youth Safety Taskforce.
Set up in November 2017, the Taskforce spoke to or engaged with online “hundreds of individuals” in compiling its report, which recommends a Camden-wide “public health approach” to preventing youth violence including increased efforts to identify and support those at risk of being affected by it, along with fostering greater trust between the young and the authorities and the targeting of enforcement measures at those “at the top” of the drug trade.
In line with findings in some other London boroughs, the Camden Taskforce has detected “a change in characteristics” in the borough’s gang cultures, with a switch away from the territorial defence of postcode areas towards profit-focussed activities. Its report cites the Home Office’s recent serious violence strategy in noting that contested drug markets can provoke localised bursts of violence.
The report recommends that Camden takes a leading role in campaigning nationally to highlight the exploitation of young children, mainly boys, by older criminals, with the most vulnerable being the most at risk and a large proportion of young offenders also being victims of crime. Professionals working in the field said that traumatic experiences in childhood have often been experienced by the young people they work with, with some saying this leads to their desensitisation to violence. There was a particular focus on Camden’s Somali community, which has been particularly affected by the recent increase in attacks and injuries.
No evidence was found that exclusion from school directly resulted in youth violence, but regular attendance at school is said to play “a vital role” in keeping young people away from involvement with gangs. Nationally, a very high percentage of knife possession offenders have been persistently absent from school. The Taskforce also heard from young people themselves that a fear of not being able to defend themselves if they didn’t carry a knife outweighed the fear of legal punishment if they were caught be the police.
Camden Council is to allot £500,000 over two years towards implementing some of the recommendations. The Taskforce is jointly chaired by Keir Starmer QC, the MP for Holborn & St Pancras and by Councillor Abdul Hai, Camden Council’s cabinet member for young people and cohesion. Read the full report via here.