Police Scotland along with education authorities across the North East are urging parents and guardians to work together with officers and schools to ensure young people are aware of the dangers of carrying weapons and that they understand the devastating consequences which could result.
Statistics released on Thursday by North East Division can confirm that 207 incidents involving young people allegedly being in possession of a weapon were recorded between April 2016 and March 2017 across the area. Of this figure, 36% involved the alleged possession or use of a bladed weapon.
Some 55 (27%) of those incidents recorded occurred within primary and secondary schools, with 29 in Aberdeen, 15 in Aberdeenshire and 11 in Moray. The average age of the children in schools was 12-years-old and the majority were male (93%).
Almost half the incidents reported occurred within the classroom (24), followed by the playground (15) and then corridor (7). Other locations (9) include a canteen, bus, changing rooms and locker.
Where known, reasons for carrying a weapon included to carve wood or for camping, with a number stating they simply forgot they had the weapon on them. However, more concerning, a small number of young people admitted they were carrying a weapon to threaten another person or for the purposes of self harm.
Of the 55 incidents reported to have taken place in or around a school, 19 were recorded as a crime resulting in the young person being charged. The remainder, following thorough enquiry, were deemed not to be a crime.
In all cases however, regardless of a crime being recorded, the robust process in place following implementation of a 'Trigger Plan' instigated by North East Division ensures partners very quickly come together to collectively establish if there are any underlying welfare or other issues which require to be addressed, which is absolutely paramount to prevent a similar incident in the future. To-date there have been no repeat offenders in schools.
The number of incidents recorded would suggest an upward trend in reporting, however Partnerships Superintendent Kate Stephen has stressed that as a result of the increased focus by Police and partners to address the issue, there is a much greater awareness and significantly lower tolerance of weapon-related incidents which has contributed towards this apparent rise.
As the school year ends and the summer break approaches, she is calling on all parents and guardians to play an active role in ensuring young people are aware of the consequences of carrying weapons, in the same way they would educate their children of the dangers of alcohol and drugs and the importance of exercising Internet safety.
Superintendent Stephen said: "Young people need to understand that even if they never intend on using a weapon, the act of carrying one could result in unthinkable consequences, not to mention a potential criminal record. There is no justifiable reason for ever carrying a weapon and whether or not the intention is to use it is absolutely irrelevant. Ignorance is not an excuse.
"Working closely with partners in Education we are striving to ensure our schools and communities are safe places for young people to live and learn and to educate them about the consequences of carrying a weapon. This is ultimately about prevention, and one such incident in our schools and communities is one too many.
"Anti-weapon lessons continue to be provided by School Liaison and School Based Officers across the North East, while Aberdeen City Council's #lifenotknife pledge has been successfully implemented in primary and secondary schools across the city, with Aberdeenshire and Moray Council areas looking to implement similar resources.
"To ensure we also have a consistent approach when responding to and dealing with such incidents, we have established a multi-agency response plan which includes a prompt assessment and follow-up to any incident, focussing on the support and welfare of all those involved.
"Provision of the necessary support to those involved is crucial, but by no means does this minimise the incident - a criminal offence will still be dealt appropriately where that is found to be the case."
She added: "Prevention and education are absolutely critical, and my message to parents and guardians is that Police, teachers and other colleagues can't eradicate this issue on our own. It is vital you also talk about the dangers of weapon carrying and ensure all young people understand and appreciate the harsh reality of what could result.
"As a collective, we all need to work together to reduce the number of weapons carried in our communities."
Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council and Moray Council have backed the call for parents and guardians to work together with Police, schools and other partner agencies. All three authorities take a very pro-active approach to the reporting and recording of incidents involving offensive weapons in schools.
All schools across the North East have been working hard alongside Police to increase awareness of the dangers and consequences of carrying weapons in schools and the view is that this is paying dividends; children are more aware and are reporting any concerns more readily and more often.