Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

The teamwork which helps combat incidence of crime

Everyone has their own role to play in keeping children and the most vulnerable in society safe from harm, says Cheryl Lamont

The Criminal Justice Order (NI) 2008 created the public protection arrangements in Northern Ireland. The arrangements bring together a number of agencies and departments, including police, probation, social services and prison service, to provide effective assessment and management of the risks posed by sexual and certain violent offenders.

The arrangements are not a stand-alone organisation; rather it is a way for the agencies to co-operate to better protect the public.

My role as chair of the Strategic Management Board is to facilitate discussion between board members in order to progress business relating to the strategic oversight of the operation of the arrangements.

The Criminal Justice Inspector has examined the arrangements, most recently in 2011 and the recommendations made have been implemented. The inspector recently described the work of the agencies and the arrangements as "leading the way in terms of partnership working within criminal justice".

However, we are not complacent. We have much more to do to raise awareness about sexual and violent offending; to train staff about how best to risk assess and manage offenders; and to ensure that victims' issues remain a priority.

To date, we have established a victims' sub-group to provide a victim's perspective on public protection. It is chaired by the NSPCC, with representation from a range of victims' representative groups.

All staff who are involved in this work need to continually remember that the aim of our work is to prevent others becoming victims of crime, therefore victims' issues must not only be given prominence, but indeed priority in the coming year.

As well as representatives from victims' organisations, we also have two lay advisors who are appointed by the Department of Justice. They represent a community interest in public protection. The role of lay advisors is critical in ensuring that the agencies have a broad range of perspectives. The training that we provide to staff is vital in ensuring that they are able to effectively risk assess and manage the risk posed by offenders.

However, all the staff involved in this work understand that they cannot completely eliminate the risk of offenders going on to re-offend.

But through putting in place the most rigorous training programme for staff, we can ensure that we do everything we can to minimise the risk of offenders re-offending.

The staff involved in this work, from all agencies, are committed to helping make communities safer. This work is complex and challenging and can be difficult.

Before Christmas, justice minister David Ford visited staff in the Public Protection Team, made up of police officers, probation officers and staff from social services.

The minister paid tribute to all those working in public protection and for their contribution to community safety. It is right that the staff who work day in, day out, to reduce the risk of reoffending are acknowledged and commended.

Finally, this year we will continue our work in raising awareness about violent and sexual crimes and the impact upon victims.

Many crimes still go unreported. We want to help build confidence in the criminal justice system so that those who are affected by these terrible crimes will come forward and report them.

We also want to help families understand what they can do to protect their children. We know that most children who suffer abuse are harmed by someone known to them and in a trusted position.

We want to make families and communities aware that everyone has a role to play in keeping children and the most vulnerable in society safe. There is much work to do in the coming year and professionals working in public protection agencies, voluntary and community groups, and, indeed, the wider public all have a role to play in helping make communities safer.

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