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Police explain why illegal weapon possession crimes have doubled in Leeds; The number of people caught with knives and illegal weapons in Leeds has more than doubled in the last five years, new figures reveal.

Byline: Abbey Maclure

New police data, obtained by the Yorkshire Evening Post under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, shows that possession of weapons crimes in the city are rising year-on-year.

There were 874 weapons possession crimes recorded in Leeds from April 2019 to March 2020, the figures show.

It represents a rise of 21 crimes compared to the same period last year and a figure more than double that recorded in 2013/14.

The latest analysis comes as the YEP is shining a light on statistics, bringing you the numbers from behind the scenes as part of our Your Right To Know campaign.

Superintendent Damon Solley leads Operation Jemlock - a West Yorkshire Police operation launched in April 2019 to crackdown on knife crime and serious violence.

He partly attributed the rise in weapons possession crimes to increased police action targeting illegal weapons in Leeds, as well as a rise in weapons crimes nationally.

Speaking to the YEP, Supt Solley said: "Certainly since Operation Jemlock launched, we've seen some really encouraging results from the activity of our officers.

"There is no question that the increase in possession of weapons crimes has to a degree been down to increased activity to clamp down on knife crime and serious violent crime.

"The more you target any particular crime, the more of it you record.

"There has been an increase in the seizure of weapons and we've seen 200 weapons taken off the streets in West Yorkshire since 2019. That's really encouraging news to our communities."

While the number of people caught with illegal weapons in Leeds is rising, Operation Jemlock has seen some success in reducing knife crime across West Yorkshire.

Overall knife crime fell by 13 per cent in the 12 months following the operation's launch, while knife crime involving victims under 25 dropped by 16 per cent.

The force has increased the use of stop and searches in Leeds and 'sweeps' on parks and other public spaces where they believe illegal weapons could be hidden.

Supt Solley said the launch of the West Yorkshire's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), one of 18 across the country, will work to divert young people away from crime and picking up a weapon.

Launched in March, the unit is run by the Police and Crime Commissioner and will focus on early intervention and preventative work, with locally delivered projects to give young people a different focus through sport, art or music.

Supt Solley added: "It's about diverting young people away from crime, the VRU uses Government funding to give young people a different focus and help them find a different path.

"We can't be there for everybody, we can't change every young person's life.

"But if we can provide those pathways to divert young people away from that kind of life, then the project work is really worthwhile."

The charity sector in Leeds plays an important role in changing the attitudes of young people.

One charity delivering vital work is Street Doctors, which trains young people in schools, youth groups and young offending services in first aid and what to do if someone is stabbed or unconscious.

As well as giving practical advice, the team opens a discussion around knife crime and its consequences to empower young people to make better and informed decisions.

Volunteer Antonia Perumal, a 21-year-old medical student at the University of Leeds, said: "Our work is spread across Leeds, we have delivered sessions everywhere from more affluent areas to working with youth offending services.

"Our main target is at-risk youth, but it's important to alert everyone about the consequences of violence and what to do if they see anyone with an injury.

"The project is really practical and it's not a top-down approach, it's peer-to-peer. We are all medical students and they are students going through various challenges. We learn from them while also teaching them.

"It's an open discussion about the consequences of carrying a knife. People are going to get stabbed, so our approach is teaching young people what to do about it, how they can practically help.

"We see young people as part of the solution to solving knife crime, not the cause of the problem."

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Your Right to Know campaign is using Freedom of Information legislation and official data to take a closer look at how your taxes are spent and how the city's public organisations are performing. Email yep.newsdesk@ypn.co.uk to tell us about any issues you would like us to investigate.

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CAPTION: Possession of weapons crimes in Leeds are rising year-on-year, figures released to the YEP have revealed

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CAPTION: Possession of weapons crimes in Leeds are rising year-on-year, figures released to the YEP have revealed
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Title Annotation:Crime
Author:Abbey Maclure
Publication:Yorkshire Evening Post Online
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 8, 2020
Words:796
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