14:06, July 24 253 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-24 14:06:04
Enforcement alone won’t stop violent crime

I can wholeheartedly endorse the lessons conveyed in Samira Shackle’s article (How we ought to talk about violent crime, The long read, 24 July). Over 10 years ago I was part of a team from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies contracted by Channel 4’s Street Weapons Commission (SWC) to supply the evidence basis for their documentary series on cities and violent crime in the UK. Glasgow, including its highly innovative Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), was one of the case studies.

Two major lessons stood out. First, violence was not primarily about weapons – whether guns or knives, or the ubiquitous “blunt objects”, fists and feet – but about social exclusion, lack of opportunity, and the hair-trigger tempers of young men, often fuelled by alcohol. In other words, it was a cultural issue. Second, it was clear that enforcement alone, while politically popular, was never going to provide a sustainable long-term solution.

Unfortunately, while we reported on the emerging success story of the Strathclyde VRU, its adoption by the SWC and, later, the government took the unit’s successful violence prevention focus but transformed it to an individualised investigative and enforcement-driven approach which has, over time, probably dissuaded many young men injured in street and gang violence from attending A&E departments (where their violence injuries may be reported to the police).

One of the problems for criminology about the idea that “crime is everyone’s concern” is that everyone thinks they know how to address it. As Shackle notes, common sense is not nearly so common. Evidence-based crime prevention should be about what actually works, what has been shown to work; not what you’d like to work, hope will work, or what is merely popular.

Peter Squires

Professor of criminology and public policy, University of Brighton

President, British Society for Criminology

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