Police tell councillors young people are carrying weapons 'out of fear' in Harrogate district
Police have warned councillors more young people are arming themselves with dangerous weapons - including knives - out of "great concern and fear."
North Yorkshire Police's detective superintendent Stephen Thomas this week told a Harrogate Borough Council meeting the fears are being brought by violent crimes and the district's County Lines drug dealing problems - but added officers are stepping up work in schools to win over young minds.
Det Supt Thomas said: "At Christmas we had the tragic incident where a member of the public was stabbed - not directly linked to County Lines - but they were picked on because they were vulnerable.
"We have been employing all our resources to get to grips with County Lines. One of the things that comes with it is people out of the area resorting to using weapons, or a threat of weapons, as a means of protecting their business model.
"They think it makes them safe - but in fact it is the complete opposite."
Three teenage boys - aged 13, 15 and 16 - were charged with robbery and wounding with intent after the stabbing near Harrogate's Victoria shopping centre in January.
A report put to councillors said: "This incident caused great concern and fear within the Harrogate community.
"As a result of this and other information it suggests that there is an increased propensity for young people to carry weapons in North Yorkshire. There has been a particular increase in the volume of intelligence received relating to knife activity in Ripon."
In February, North Yorkshire Police launched a crackdown on knife crime in Harrogate and Ripon. Operation Disarm is aiming to protect young people from the risks associated with carrying knives through intervention and enforcement. In addition, more stop-and-search powers are being enforced and officers are patrolling in plain clothes.
At the overview and scrutiny meeting on Monday, March 2, councillors questioned whether the police's enforcement efforts were being rewarded with stronger sentences for those caught carrying weapons.
Det Supt Thomas said although tougher punishments are being imposed - they are not necessarily the way forward for young people.
He said: "If a teenager is silly enough to get caught with a knife because someone at school has threatened them, the outcome for that person may not be going through criminalisation. Yes, we have to bookmark it, but we have a range of different outcomes.
"But if someone has a violent history and is caught with weapons - then yes they will be dealt with by the courts."
North Yorkshire Police's inspector for Harrogate Rural, Steve Breen, also said: "When dealing with young people, education is the way forward."
The report to councillors also warned some young people are being lured by drug ringleaders into carrying out their crimes.
It said: "These gangs continue to exploit young people, coercing them into carrying drugs, weapons and cash to/from the Harrogate District.
"The speed with which action is taken in response to intelligence received has been massively improved. On many occasions anonymous intelligence, which falls far short of evidence, has been received and within a very few hours arrests made and imitation firearms and machetes recovered.
"The way in which the County Lines gangs operate is continuing to be complex with the tactics they use to exploit vulnerable people ever changing."
North Yorkshire Police carried out a series of raids last month as part of Operation Jackal, designed to disrupt the County Lines operations. Police made 17 arrests and seized weapons, phones and Class A drugs.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter