Glasgow is the model in fight against knife crime

The Times, by Jeremy Watson

Senior UK police officers are looking to Glasgow as a model of how other cities should tackle knife crime.

By the mid-2000s Glasgow had earned the reputation as the knife-crime capital of Europe, with large numbers of stabbings and murders.

The former Strathclyde force set up a task force in 2005 to deal with the growing culture of knife violence. The Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) used several tactics to take young men and teenage boys away from gangs and crime. Treating it as a public health crisis, the approach involved police working with health, education and social work agencies to reduce the incidents.

Gang members were targeted and people affected in their community, including bereaved mothers, were asked to explain the knock-on effects of the violence. Young men were offered a way out through education and mentoring by someone with similar experience of street violence.

In February the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, made a private visit to Glasgow to learn more about the unit’s work.

The founders of the VRU say that senior officers and politicians in London need to ditch short-term solutions, ignore squabbling interest groups and prioritise local knowledge to reduce the city’s escalating murder rate which has reached 53 this year.

John Carnochan, who set up the VRU with Karyn McCluskey, told The Guardian: “Everybody’s asking the mayor or the home secretary what they’re going to do, but they don’t have their hands on the levers of the things that need to change. It seems to me that people are waiting for this big London-wide plan. That’s not how it works: what the strategy should be is get out of the way and support communities to do it from the ground up.”

Mr Carnochan, who has been advising the London borough of Lambeth on its efforts to tackle youth violence, said: “Lambeth have a good group of community people and Met officers, and that’s what the rest of London needs to think about.”

Ms McCluskey, who has worked in London and empathises with the “overwhelmingly complex” problem said: “Let’s think about this borough the way we thought about Glasgow, start to establish relationships with key people in education, social services, child and adolescent mental health teams, and particularly community groups and then start to share information, to divert, to intervene”.

She added. “You need to put your best cops into the community and keep them there. People who are genuinely motivated, understand that they’ve got a latitude and discretion to engage and get to know people, because they’re also gathering intelligence at the same time. If you just have loads of cops in cars rushing from call to call, that’s not the same. You have to police by consent.”

Among those supporting a Glasgow-style approach are David Lammy, the Tottenham Labour MP and Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary. Mr Lammy said: “Glasgow was only able to achieve that with political consensus, across political parties, with serious resources and with every single agency working hand in hand. Until we get that in London, we will not defeat the problem.”