POLICE arrested 1,471 Wearside children and teenagers for crimes including drug dealing, sex offences and kidnap during the last year.
But officers today said they were successfully cracking down, claiming arrests involving young people had plummeted by 26 per cent, from 1,995 arrests the previous year.
Theft was the most prolific crime among Wearside’s under-18s, with 309 arrests made during 2012. It was followed by 220 arrests for assault and 215 for criminal damage.
Figures obtained by the Echo reveal that 97 children, aged 12 or under, were detained by police. Officers also arrested 78 youths on suspicion of supplying Class A drugs during the past two years.
Doug Ridley, 83, of East Herrington, is a former chairman of Sunderland’s Crime Prevention Panel and is heavily involved with Neighbourhood Watch.
He said: “I believe the main problem triggering youth crime at the minute is youth unemployment in the city.
“Young people leave school but there is nothing for them to do; they go to college but they aren’t learning what they should, they don’t learn a trade any more.
“Because of this they have very little money to spend so some young people turn to shoplifting.
“I believe the main thing we can do to combat youth crime is get these kids into work then maybe we will see a decrease in things like theft.”
According to figures published in the last seven days, there are 3,180 young adults, aged between 18 and 24, claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Sunderland.
But Steve Jones, 31, a patient service operative from Sunderland, thinks youth crime is not as big a problem as it has been in the past.
He said: “I don’t feel threatened by young people on the streets and I don’t think it’s worse these days than when I was younger.”
Mr Jones’ partner, Lisa Northorpe, 29, an auxiliary nurse, from Sunderland, agreed that things are better today than they have been in the past. But Louise Duncan, 31, a clinical staff member from South Shields, said: “I think the problem remains just the same as when I was younger. When I get the Metro to work, if there is a group of lads it can be quite intimidating.”
Her friend, Vicky Scott, 36, also a clinical staff worker from South Shields, said: “Things are as bad now as they’ve always been.”
While Janice Martin, 51, of Silksworth, said the main problem in her area is gangs of young people.
She added: “It’s not so much crime that worries me, but the general behaviour of the young people. They shout at you, swear, smash bottles and drink in the bus shelters, it can be quite intimidating.”
‘Our tactics are working’
Despite people’s concerns, bosses at Sunderland Area Command told the Echo the latest figures show their tactics are having the desired affect. They claim projects like Friday Night Football, based at the Seaburn Centre, are helping deter young people from getting into trouble.
Superintendent Derek Scott said: “As these figures show, we continue to be proactive in developing multi-agency solutions that do not automatically necessitate detaining younger people, although sometimes it is necessary; either for their protection or the protection of others.
“One of many examples of the kind of alternatives we are using includes schemes on Friday and Saturday nights and on other occasions when there is potential for disorder.
“Young people under 17 who are found in possession of alcohol are taken home and have the alcohol seized. Such action helps to reduce the number of young people being arrested and having to spend time in custody with the added benefit of reducing anti-social behaviour.
“We also work closely with partner agencies to provide diversionary activities and support, and ensure young people are educated about the impact of criminal and antisocial behaviour on themselves and others in an effort to prevent offences from taking place.”
Among the figures are more unusual offences involving young people. They include four arrested for immigration offences, one for kidnap, one for escaping from legal custody and two arrested for witness intimidation.
It is not just the police who say they are working to combat youth crime.
Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council and chairman of the Safer Sunderland Partnership, said the authority is currently working on many projects to help deter antisocial behaviour and crime.
He added: “A lot of this is early intervention and that can help in fewer younger people engaging in antisocial behaviour and hopefully fewer arrests.
“This fall in the numbers of arrests should be seen as a tribute to the good partnership work that the council has with Northumbria Police, the probation service and many others.
“We all very much hope that fewer arrests means less crime , less antisocial behaviour and safer communities.
Under-18s arrested during 2012
l Arson 35
l Assault 220
l Breach of peace 64
l Burglary 84
l Criminal damage 215
l Driving offences 17
l Drugs 67
l Drunk and disorderly 101
l Escape the law 1
l Firearms 13
l Fraud 7
l Immigration 4
l Kidnap 1
l Offensive weapon 12
l Public order 184
l Robbery 29
l Sex offence 14
l Theft 309
l Theft involving a motor vehicle 30
l Warrant/breach of bail 61
l Witness Intimidation 2