A police chief has revealed alarming statistics about youth crime as he spoke of growing problems with grooming and exploitation.

Superintendent John Wrintmore urged for more work to be done on prevention and intervention with children and young people.

He said: “I’ve been in Cleveland Police for many many years and I can say with significant confidence that my professional judgment would say we are seeing more cohorts of children and young people either being exploited or groomed to become involved in criminality.

“And some of those children or young people at a very young age are becoming involved in some serious criminality, serious violence, use of weapons, serious and organised crime. That’s a personal concern to me and I’m sure it’s one that’s shared with many people across the table,” he told a Safer Stockton Partnership meeting on Wednesday.

“Across the force in the last six months there were over 3,500 young people identified as suspects of crime. That’s 3,500 people that have been named suspects in criminal offences.

“489 of those relate to violence with injury, 104 residential burglary and 232 sexual offences. It just gives us a little bit of a sense of how many children and young people are involved in some really serious criminality at a young age.”

He added: “I think it’s incumbent on us really to make sure we’re maximising our opportunities around prevention and intervention.

“We owe it to the next generation, they are the future of the agencies that we represent and indeed the future of our communities. It’s also where we can see the greatest impact and benefit to the long-term social harmony of our communities.

“There’s also a financial driver here. Reoffending by children costs society around £1.5bn per year. I don’t know how that would equate across Stockton but it would be a significant amount of money.

“We know that Stockton has some significant crime challenges. We know Cleveland in its entirety has one of the highest crime rates across the country. That is reducing but it’s still higher than what we would want it to be, certainly.

“Stockton has some fairly deep-rooted socio and economic challenges, many measures around child truancy, health and education outcomes, poverty, unemployment. All of those create a climate, an environment that drives up crime and anti-social behaviour, and that’s where our challenge lays.

“Focusing on the right areas and through the right agencies is a real opportunity for us. What opportunities are there for us to improve?

“The evidence shows us that early intervention with vulnerable children reduces the risks of reoffending. And why wait until people get into the system?

“We don’t have any particular central guidance. We do know that many public sector agencies are particularly stretched and underfunded. We operated on the coalface much of the time.”

He proposed setting up a small working group to draw up a plan, look at national and regional best practice, pinpoint gaps and opportunities, ensure ownership, accountability and governance, and “deliver a better offering”.

Councillor Steve Nelson said there had been massive cuts to councils and other key agencies from central government. He said: “We used to be able to spend more on diversionary opportunities.” Supt Wrintmore said there would be opportunities with charities and other agencies like Cleveland Unit for Reducing Violence (CURV).

Cllr Norma Stephenson said: “It’s a no-brainer. We have to support it.”

Marc Stephenson, Stockton Council’s community safety assistant director, said: “We do have a significant amount of transformation work going on in our children’s area currently in the local authority. I know that this particular area is being picked up and scoped by our children’s services and prevention command within the police.

He said a multi-agency child exploitation (MACE) model could be expanded with new leadership, with a senior lead to join next month tackling “how all of the system plugs in together to give young people the best possible chances and outcomes in Stockton-on-Tees, whilst at the same time addressing some of the issues around crime and disorder”. He added this would address many of the aims mentioned.

He suggested a sub-group to make sure work met the aims of community safety and young people. The board agreed to come back and hear more in January.