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Broken Britain: Cleaning up Cleveland, the UK's crime capital

Cleveland Police has some of the highest violent crime rates in the UK (Alamy)

4 min read

With some of the worst violent crime rates in the country, John Johnston reports on efforts to clean up Cleveland.

With one of the highest levels of violent crime in the country and a police force in special measures, Cleveland is a frequent chart topper when it comes to identifying England’s worst area for crime.

Unlike many other areas high on the list, Cleveland is unique in that it doesn’t encompass a major city, with much of its population dispersed across the towns of Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough. But with poor economic growth and few job opportunities, the area is blighted by high levels of drug use and records more knife crime than anywhere else in the country.

Elected in May 2021, Steve Turner, the local Police and Crime Commissioner, is committed to turning round the region’s shocking crime stats, something he believes is as much about economics as it is about policing.

“We’ve got a lot of violent crime here in Cleveland, and that includes knife crime and just general violent behaviour. The vast majority of it, when it is traced back, is drug related,” he tells The House. “I’m told drugs are relatively cheap to buy in Tees Valley compared to the rest of the country.”

“Looking at it holistically, the economic circumstances here in Teesside have been driven down. We’ve lost a lot of industry and things like that, so the whole levelling up agenda is something important, because whilst it doesn’t feel policing-related, I am a big believer in the fact that if you give people jobs and opportunity then that comes with less crime and more stability.”

Sitting on the boards of high street regeneration projects, lobbying ministers over levelling up and working with local businesses to fund the resurfacing of outdoor football pitches breaks what Turner believes is the common public misconception of his role, but is certain is vital to addressing Cleveland’s crime rate.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg, you can’t really attract investment unless you’re attracting people to an area which is safe for them and their employees to live and work in, so the levelling up piece has a big part to play in that,” he adds.

“When people look at the role, all they see is police, but the phrase I use probably the most is that I’m not Batman. When someone tags me in a Facebook post and says my son’s bike was stolen, what are you going to do about it? The answer is, personally, I’m not going to come out and find the individual who took your son’s bike and bring him to justice.”

To boost his work, Turner’s office recently secured a £3.5m funding package from the government aimed at reducing violent crime, both through additional policing, but crucially, through improving conditions in the community.

“When we talk about violent reduction units, it’s not cops with guns, which is how the public perception of it is – it’s about getting upstream of the problem. The best way to stop violent crime is for violent crime not to happen in the first place.”

Taking a carrot and stick approach, Turner insists that police will continue to clamp down on anti-social behaviour, but says he hopes offering a swathe of community projects will create opportunities for young people to avoid becoming repeat offenders.

“You’ve got to work with them to show there are other options, because often the role models in these children’s lives are criminals. One local project we work with is a basketball club that have created their own initiative that is called ‘role models’.

“That is aimed at teaching young people that there are better ways to do things. There are other options. There are other people they can look up to than the role models they currently have in their life. That sort of project really underpins a lot of the work we are doing.”

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