Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Glasgow takes on violence as a health problem and homicides plummet

In 2005, the World Health Organization dubbed Glasgow, Scotland the “murder capital of Europe.” There had been 83 homicides the previous year in the Glasgow region, where gangs were known for their booze-and-blades culture, reported the Washington Post.
Exasperated police in Glasgow decided to rethink strategy. They set up a violence reduction unit (VRU) guided by the philosophy that violence is like a public health issue: Violent behavior spreads from person to person. To contain it, you need to think in terms of transmission and risk, symptoms and causes.
“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” said Niven Rennie, director of the now-national Scottish VRU, a unit funded by the government with a budget of $1.6 million this year.
Scottish police plucked ideas from the Cure Violence project in Chicago, Boston’s Operation Ceasefire and Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, among other initiatives. They formed partnerships with local teachers, doctors and social workers.
They didn’t abandon traditional policing. Shortly after launching the VRU, police ratcheted up stop-and-search and successfully campaigned for legislation that increased the maximum sentences for carrying a knife. But increasingly, they emphasized the interruption and prevention of violent behavior. They are intervening in hospitals, working with partners in schools and helping former offenders get back to work.
Meanwhile, over the past decade, Glasgow has seen a 60 percent drop in homicides, and violent crime in Scotland has fallen to historic lows.
The notion that the public health approach may have contributed to the decline has brought officers from as far afield as Canada and New Zealand to Glasgow to learn more.
And in London, where knife crime has risen by 50 percent in the past three years, Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced the creation of a violence reduction unit modeled on Scotland’s. “We have listened and researched the public health approaches in cities like Glasgow, where their own long-term approach over more than a decade has delivered large reductions in violence,” the mayor said in a statement.
Researchers urge caution in assessing the impact of Scotland’s program. They stress the difficulty of pinpointing and disentangling the variables that influence crime rates.
“There are a lot of factors at play,” said Susan McVie, a professor of criminology at the University of Edinburgh.
Scottish police have been “bold, they’ve been progressive in a way that has not happened in the city of Glasgow before,” said Alistair Fraser, a criminology lecturer at the University of Glasgow and author of a book on gang identity. Fraser said the VRU has been successful at changing the narrative about crime, but he was hesitant about more concrete results. “There is a general sense it’s a good thing,” he said, “but little in the way of hard proof.”
The picture is complicated by statistics showing that crime also has decreased in areas of Scotland where the VRU is not active. Other possible explanations for the decline include anti-knife campaigns in Scottish schools and a trend of young people spending more time at home and less lingering on the streets.
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