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Public health approach called for

Scotland has taken a public health, rather than a criminal justice, approach to violent – gun and knife – crime; and that’s been taken up in London; but would it work elsewhere?

Police with money the from Scottish Government set up the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which Mayor of London Sadiq Khan took as a model for his unit set up last year. In London and elsewhere, people in the field – such as John Sutherland in his memoir of the Met Police, Blue, reviewed in the January 2019 print issue of Professional Security magazine – argue that the deeper issue isn’t guns and gangs but ‘mindsets’, often caused by childhood trauma. What Steve O’Connell of the London Assembly in a letter to Sadiq Khan termed ‘adverse childhood experiences’. Or as Sutherland stressed, violence begets violence. At Bristol City Council, Crime Reduction Manager Stuart Pattison said: “The traditional approach had been focussed around the criminal justice system. But by doing that we were not really addressing the underlying cause of the problems.” Even if treating poor lifestyle choices does teach young people not to turn to violence, how to intervene and for whom? Who to do the intervening – schools? Yet many of the violent young are found to be excluded from school. And even if the approach takes effect, over years or even generations, what about enforcement in the meantime?

For retail and other front-line security people are reporting that shop thieves are threatening and giving out extreme violence, far out of proportion to the rewards of a crime. As one retired policeman and private investigator put it simply to Professional Security recently, ‘stop and search’; in other words, police should do on-street searches of suspects, which is however politically controversial; and would even that take knives off streets?

As Steve O’Connell also asked in his letter to the Mayor, what about social media videos making violence look glamorous and normal? While he welcomed the opportunity the unit gave, he asked where money for it would come from, and what were the ‘deliverables’. And are child criminals more like victims, as when carrying drugs in ‘county lines’ cases, as featured at the 2018 Security Institute conference in October; and as argued by Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, last year. He said: “We work with children who have gone missing from home or care, sometimes for weeks on end, at the mercy of gangs who see these vulnerable children as pawns in their crimes.”

More on violence reduction in the February 2019 print issue of Professional Security magazine.


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