Police officer steers more than 300 kids away from crime

A police officer who has helped steer up to 300 children away from crime and getting their young lives back on track has been given an award.

DC Deb Dace
DC Deb Dace

Detective Constable Deborah Dace is the Youth Crime Officer based in Walsall where, for the last five years, she’s worked with children as young as 10 who have committed offences.

Some have been exploited to run drugs, many have behavioural issues that’s led to assaults or damage in their homes, or others have been caught for the first time with weapons.

The officer works with youth and health services, plus charities, to support children faced with the prospect of being charged and a criminal record that’s likely to jeopardise their futures.

She is a specialist in ‘out of court disposals’ where – in the right circumstances – the force offers young offenders the support and chances they need to prosper rather than criminalising them.

Deb recently won a West Midlands Police Diamond Award for “undoubtedly changing the lives of many young people”.

The citation read out at the awards event said the officer was “unwaveringly fair, she will help young people with mental health needs, go with them to a college interview, find the money for their first month’s hostel rent or work with other agencies to get the right support”.

During a 30-year career, including time as a response officer attending 999 calls, and a detective, Deb says her youth crime role is perhaps the most rewarding.

She said: “The landscape has certainly changed: when I started I was dealing mainly with low-level assaults, criminal damage and theft but over the last couple of years children I’m working with have been found with a weapon or been exploited into crime.

DC Deb Dace receives her West Midlands Police Diamond Award for steering hundreds of children from crime

“The easiest thing to do is to charge them with criminal offences. If they’re found with some drugs or a knife, why not charge them?

“But my job is to understand how they’ve found themselves in that position. Have they been bullied or threatened and foolishly felt having a knife would help? Have they been groomed into carrying those drugs?

“Many children I’m helping are first time offenders; they made stupid decisions or found themselves on a slippery slope and couldn’t escape. In cases like this, criminalising them is more likely to exacerbate the problems, not help them or steer them away from crime.

“We will only take this route in the right circumstances. And when it’s right to press charges and take children to court that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Deb works with a range of agencies and meets regularly to discuss children who’ve come to their attention and to develop plans designed to steer them away from trouble and negative influences.

She estimates around three-quarters of the young people she’s supported have accepted the support and not gone on to commit more offences.

“It’s lovely to receive the award but this really is a team effort. I couldn’t do this alone. It’s great to see many of the children we’ve helped really turn their lives around, getting back into education, training or work, and improving their life prospects. That’s what it’s all about.”

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