A senior officer with West Midlands police has described violence among children as a “wicked problem” that he sometimes has “no idea how we’re going to solve”.
Chief Superintendent Mike O’Hara is the area commander for Coventry where last month a 15-year-old was seriously injured in a drive-by shooting.
The number of children aged 16 or younger being attacked or threatened with a knife in the West Midlands has more than doubled over five years. Last year, 463 children were targeted, including 14 children aged 10 or younger.
“Some of the ages of people involved causes me huge concern,” Mr O’Hara told Sky News.
“There’s a part of me that sort of goes I have no idea how we’re going to solve this. How do we tackle it? It’s such a wicked problem. But if I allowed myself to feel that way I would take my epaulettes off and not come back into work.
“I take it very personally. I have three children so you very quickly put yourself in the mind of the family or the father or the relation of that individual so I probably do take it very personally but it probably hardens my resolve to continue to do more.”
He says tackling the violence is his number one priority, adding: “It has been number one for the last 6-12 months and it will continue to be so until we start to get some control.”
The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner has funded 800 hours of free activities in Coventry over the summer holidays to help keep children off the streets and out of danger.
Every day during the school break staff from the Positive Youth Foundation in the city are running sports sessions and going into parks to engage with young people.
Among those taking part are Amman and Umar who are both 15. They welcome the opportunity to have somewhere to go during the holidays.
“I don’t really feel safe sometimes in the park,” Amman says. “Gang members, sometimes they’re having a fight and you could get dragged in. There’s lots of knife crime in Coventry.”
Umar has seen first hand the devastation knife crime can cause families. “My mate’s brother, he got stabbed and he died” he says, adding: “It shows that they can attack anyone.”
That young victim was Jaydon James. He was just 16 when he was stabbed to death in November.
Many of the young people in the city knew him. Mohammed Ibrahim is just 14 years old but already works as a young leader with the Positive Youth Foundation, helping to steer children as young as eight away from crime.
“Knowing that it’s people your age getting hurt from stuff like that it’s frightening,” he said.
He explains the reasons young people choose to carry knives are complex.
“It may be for self defence. Maybe they don’t feel safe that’s why they think it’s acceptable. Obviously it’s not acceptable. But they think it’s acceptable to carry knives.”
Cormac Whelan, the programmes manager for the Positive Youth Foundation, said: “Outside of school when there’s no provision for young people it’s really crucial that we get as many hours of positive experiences and positive role models as we can.
“Most of the time it’s about being able to create positive opportunities for young people so we just build relationships with them from a young age as an early intervention to be able to give them more opportunities within leadership… and perhaps give them some aspiration to do something within their communities. It’s a huge benefit.”