POLICE are trying to avoid holding children who are involved in crime in custody, in order to help them avoid further offending.

Superintendent Kevin Purcell said that officers are treating children involved in offences as victims, so that they can get the help they need to escape a life of crime.

Supt Purcell, who is lead for the West Mercia and Warwickshire alliance on children and young people, explained the police’s approach during a wide-ranging interview.

The interview followed this newspaper’s report, in November, on how a 13-year-old boy who was missing from his home in Wolverhampton had been used by drug dealers to carry narcotics. Police were able to reunite the teen with his mother.

Supt Purcell said: “Over the last few years a lot of work has been done nationally on the way we have treated children when they are in the criminal justice system.

“This is really important because these children are often vulnerable and being targeted by adults both in terms of committing crimes against them and using them to commit crime.

“We have to consider how we better engage with children who we believe are the victim, and how we treat children who have committed crime whether it be low level or more serious.

“Often adults push children into crime such as drug supply and prostitution. Nationally and locally, we have been more aware that these children are victims of crime.

“We try to reduce the number of children we arrest into custody.

“Arresting them into custody has been shown to be counter-productive in the long term as the children are then more likely to be involved in further crime.

“The approach now is very much that the child will be interviewed about what they did, why they did it and then referred to the appropriate court or for caution.

“Officers are required to assess the need to bring a child into custody. They would be interviewed under caution at their home address or another suitable location.

“We won’t bring them into custody generally – however, for the most serious offences, custody is necessary.”

Supt Purcell added: “Significant work is done with social services and county council to ensure that every child is dealt with in a sympathetic and caring way – considering why they are involved in crime or have been tasked to commit crime by an adult.

“For many people, this may seem soft and they may think we should be more robust in what we do, however I am confident that the work we are doing locally and nationally is more likely to encourage the children to grow into responsible adults and not choose the path of crime.

“Children who are dealt with sensitively are more likely to engage with police and in doing so are more likely to move away from those that have been part of the offending.”

Supt Purcell said another factor officers consider is that children in the care system are often reported to the police for the kind of bad behaviour that would be dealt with by a parent if they lived with them.

“For example, a child with parents may, in a fit of anger, smash a window and the parents wouldn’t call the police and ask them to come and deal with the matter. We need to ensure children that are in the care of the local authority are treated in a similar way.

“It is really important that we get this right because children need to engage.

“Children will always be children, it would be unrealistic to expect them to see things from the point of view of the police, it is far more realistic for police and partners to see things from the eyes of children, making allowances whenever appropriate to ensure we stop crime and protect people.”

Councillor Andy Roberts, cabinet member with responsibility for children and families at Worcestershire County Council, said the authority works with police to protect vulnerable young people.

“We work together closely with the police if there is any concern about the safety of a young person who is suspected of committing an offence, and we follow a formal protocol,” Cllr Roberts said. “If there is a concern, we would undertake an investigation and liaise with our colleagues at the police before reaching a decision on how to proceed.

“If the child suspected of committing an offence has run away from home, then our children’s services team make contact with that child and meet them to explore the reasons and risks involved in going missing, in order to prevent it from happening again.”

A spokesman from the Youth Justice Service for the area explained the general approach to interacting with children involved in crime.

“If there was a concern for the young person’s safety, the police would refer the case to social services who would undertake an investigation into the case and liaise closely with the police before reaching a decision on how to proceed,” said the spokesman. “If a child is arrested and taken into police custody, they will need to be accompanied by an adult. This is usually their parent or carer. If they are unwilling or unable to attend, the child will have an appropriate adult present."