Glasgow crime unit’s valuable lessons for South Yorkshire force

Glasgow used to be the murder capital of Europe. There seemed no way that they could stem the rising tide of serious violence.

Monday, 1st July 2019, 09:23 am
Updated Monday, 1st July 2019, 10:21 am
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings

Then they heard about a different approach to tackling crime in Cincinnati in the United States of America and they decided that they would try the approach in Scotland.

In 2005 they agreed to set up a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in Scotland and they decided to treat crime as if it were a disease.

The Star's knife crime debate at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield in 2018. Speakers South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Stephen Watson , South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner - Dr Alan Billings, and Councillor Jim Steinke, Sheffield City Counci

To stop a disease spreading, you map out where that disease is breaking out  and then you take steps to prevent it going further. You tackle the root causes of the disease and not just the symptoms.

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This is called the 'public health approach' to crime.

Recently the BBC asked me to visit the Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit  with a film crew to see how it was working. You may have seen the film on Look North.

The unit in Glasgow is having impressive results. Figures for the numbers of murders and stabbings have fallen dramatically.

What is clear, though, is that this cannot be achieved just by police action alone.

The police have to work with other partners – these include schools, local authorities, the voluntary sector, the health service, employers, and so on.

This is because what people in these areas need to keep them away from the gangs and the violence is not something the police alone can deliver.

In Glasgow I met one young man, Callum, who had been carrying a knife since he was eleven. He said it was for 'protection'. All his life he had been in fear – fear of being caught by the police and fear of being hurt by a gang.

Finally, he was stabbed nine times and ended up in hospital. Here he met someone from the VRU's Navigator programme. This was a man who had once been a victim of stabbing himself but had broken free of the gangs.

The Navigator offered to be a mentor to Callum and help him get off alcohol, find a job and stick with it. This one-to-one support meant that Callum was now off the bottle and in work.

This was just one of many projects the VRU brokers that are turning lives around.

South Yorkshire Police have been following this same approach for the last two years so it was good to hear how we could develop it further in Sheffield. If only we had the funding.

The day after I came back from Glasgow the government offered us £1.6m to develop a VRU here.

With the VRU on the one hand and more police officers on the other we are now well set up to reduce violence significantly.