A PIONEERING police division has cut serious violent crime by a record 20% by identifying and tackling specific "problem families" and helping to find jobs for young people in trouble.

Police in North Lanarkshire have identified the most prolific problem families in different council wards and used a combination of persuasion and compulsion to get young people into work, sport and training.

The new figures from the police division show there have been 90 fewer victims of serious assault in the past year – with estimated savings of £2 million for the police and NHS.

The figures from the North Lanarkshire division show its pioneering approach has provided dramatic results, despite the economic downturn.

Divisional Commander Chief Superintendent Graham Cairns said: "We know that a small number of people are responsible for most of our crime.

"By mapping out diversionary activities and connecting kids into ongoing activities that interest them we have reduced youth disorder by 43% in the last two years and that is massive.

"We cut serious assaults by 20% last year and they are down a further 14% so far this financial year.

"This financial year, overall violence has been cut by 22% and that includes murder and attempted murder.

"We ran a Pathfinder initiative for kids who are emerging on our radar and we work with them over consecutive months before going on an outward-bound weekend with them.

"They get to know the cops and we get to know them, but they also get to break down barriers with the other local kids whom they perhaps saw as a threat.

"As an extension of this we have now had meetings with employability agencies and are trying to connect those kids into training for employment.

"Some kids come from families with maybe three generations of worklessness and if we are to break that cycle then we have to be proactive in doing it.

"Our community cops can act as role models and try to signpost kids, and work with social work and housing to wrap resources around the family. We know it costs £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Is it not better to spend a fraction of that trying to fix the problem?"

There are also plans to send some of the young people who have worked hard and stopped offending to Africa to do voluntary work.

By working closely with the local authority, officers have ensured that young people at risk of further offending are not only identified and put in touch with activities and sports clubs, but that they get there.

Mr Cairns added: "We knew we had a problem with young people, alcohol and violence and that particular families were responsible for a disproportionately high level of crime.

"We have a small fund we can use to buy things like boxing gloves or the fare to get young people to the boxing club. We are in a position not only to identify those in trouble but persuade them to attend services.

"We can exert a wee bit of pressure – where perhaps other agencies cannot. It has worked because of excellent relations with partners and the local authority."

Greig Robson, head of employability at North Lanarkshire Council, has been working with the police to help get young people into training and jobs.

He said: "Our target group is a small number of unemployed young males, aged 16-18, in North Lanarkshire who are involved in anti-social behaviour and on the cusp of entering the criminal justice system. This small group are having massive negative impacts on local communities and on local services.

"Strathclyde Police know who these young men are and understand through experience that the likely outcome for them is unemployment, drugs and alcohol abuse, and prison unless we intervene in a drastic way.

"We know that, as well as the likely poor outcomes for each individual young man, the financial cost to society of failure to transform their lives will be huge. Our experience shows that putting young men into an adult working environment with positive male role models can have a transformational impact on the way they think and behave.

"Employers will often have more credibility with young people than social workers or teachers. We don't believe the current system provides sufficient scope and support for employers to fulfil a role that we have evidence they can do remarkably well."