By Local Democracy Reporter Katie May Nelson
Forty-four children aged nine and under were investigated by police in Thanet in 2020.
Kent Police recorded the incidents for suspects under 10-years-old, which is the age of criminal responsibility in England.
Anyone under that age cannot be arrested or charged with a crime.
Medway had the highest number of investigations in 2020 at 70 with Dover second highest with 50. And while Medway also topped the list for the average annual number of investigations since 2017, Thanet was second.
The figures were revealed after the Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Kent Police for a breakdown of how many crimes were investigated when the suspect was under 10.
The force provided numbers relating to suspects who were aged nine or younger at the time of recording the incident.
Average number of criminal investigations where the suspect was under 10 each year since 2017:
Medway – 84
Thanet – 59
Dover – 55
Swale – 54
Maidstone – 40
Folkestone and Hythe – 36
Canterbury – 35
Ashford – 33
Dartford – 26
Sevenoaks – 24
Gravesham – 23
Tonbridge and Malling – 20
Tunbridge Wells – 13
The most frequent offence reportedly carried out by under 10s was violence against the person.
Top five offence types for criminal investigations carried out between 2017 and 2020 where the suspect was under 10:
Violence against the person – 1,217
Sexual offences – 337
Arson and criminal damage – 189
Theft – 97
Public order offences – 82
Other crimes included robbery, burglary, possession of weapons and drugs and vehicle offences.
While children under 10 cannot be arrested or charged, there are alternative methods of dealing with them which include restorative justice.
This is when offenders are encouraged to reach an agreement with their victims, which could be done through writing a letter of apology or repairing any damage caused.
Supt Pete Steenhuis, head of partnerships at Kent Police said: “We at Kent Police recognise that the vast majority of young children are not naturally drawn to crime, and that there are often underlying reasons such as abuse, neglect or trauma that lead some to behave in ways most others do not.
“It is therefore important that these children receive the appropriate level of support and guidance, which the police service is not always best placed to provide.
“In many cases, a child will benefit more from intervention by social services or youth offending teams to understand the reasons behind their behaviour, rather than through engagement with the criminal justice system at such a young age.
“We are however committed to safeguarding all children regardless of whether they are above or below the age of criminal responsibility, and are creating a dedicated team of schools officers who will seek to identify and disrupt criminal activity, protect vulnerable children, be a positive influence and reduce fear of crime.
“For those aged under 10, the Youth Justice Team provide guidance and support to officers in respect of appropriate early intervention routes to enable those children to access the right support services.”
Under 10s can also be made the subject of a Local Child Curfew which bans the child from being in public between 9pm and 6am unless they are with an adult.
They could also be handed a Child Safety Order where they are placed under the supervision of a youth offending team. If the rules aren’t adhered to, a court can consider whether the child ought to be taken into care.
Mr Steenhuis added: “It is hoped that by early 2022, most secondary schools, pupil referral units and independent specialist schools in Kent will each have a dedicated officer who will support students, teachers and parents, and we will also continue to work with and support our primary schools.
“Our dedicated Youth Justice Team ensure young people aged 10-18 who have committed an offence receive a proportionate outcome in partnership with local authorities.
“In addition to this, we are also continuing to work closely with the Medway Integrated Prevention Service and Kent’s Youth Inclusion Support Programme, which can help to identify a young person’s likelihood of offending and attempt to address any needs they may have.”