MEET PCs Mark Walsh and Jo Shields – the latest recruits in the battle to drive down youth crime.
The pair have been selected as officers newly dedicated to Youth Offending Teams in Portsmouth and south-east Hampshire.
With PC Shields focusing on Portsmouth and PC Walsh covering Fareham, Gosport, Havant and Waterlooville, they will work with young offenders in the hope of deterring them from committing more crime – or entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
PC Walsh said: ‘It’s often talked about the criminal justice system being a revolving door.
‘I want to try and make that a fire exit – once you are on the outside we don’t want young people coming back through that door.
‘I will be seeking to do that by engaging with the youths and by giving them a more active role with the police.
‘Our priority is to prevent and deter as opposed to catching and convicting. It’s more about supporting young people.
‘However other options may not be discounted if someone refuses to engage with us.’
Working with other agencies including Portsmouth’s Preventing Youth Offending Project, health and education experts and charities, the officers hope to build on work that has already led to a drop in the number of children in our area being locked up.
Figures show only 15 youngsters were handed custodial sentences in 2010 compared to 22 the previous year – a 31.8 per cent decrease.
In the rest of Hampshire – excluding Southampton – 76 children were jailed.
This was down 31.8 per cent from 116 the year before.
PC Shields said: ‘It’s about supporting and assisting young people to address issues surrounding their offending.
‘That sits alongside the enforcement side and the fact that there are consequences to what they are doing.
’But it’s to reinforce the message that there is a lot of help out there. It’s a case of engaging young people and getting them to take responsibility.’
She added: ‘It’s about looking at their whole life, whether there is drug or alcohol use, or difficulties in the home. Sometimes it’s pressures of caring responsibilities that are putting too much pressure on the young person, schooling, education, training, and if they feel like they are trapped and don’t have a future.
‘It’s all about investment in themselves and how much they have got to lose. It’s about teaching them the consequences of their actions.’