Treating violence as a disease – learning from Scotland & Wales

Merseyside / October 29

A major seminar being hosted today by Merseyside’s Police Commissioner aims to examine the public health approach to tackling serious violence and learn from the experiences of leading experts from Scotland and Wales.

More than 50 professionals from across a variety of sectors are expected to attend the event which will share learning from the violence reduction programmes which are already successfully running in Scotland and Cardiff with significant results.

Attendees will hear from Niven Rennie, who is the Director of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, which has seen Glasgow’s murder rate drop by 60% in a decade. The event will also feature a presentation from Professor Jonathan Shepherd, a surgeon who has treated thousands of violence victims and who has been pivotal in the introduction of a public health approach in Cardiff.

As early as 2002, the WHO released a report recommending that violence be treated as a public health issue, with dramatic results around the world, particularly in Colombia, America and Canada. This approach recognises that it is necessary to address the roots of violence, seeing it as disease which can be treated and prevented. The approach recognises that closer links with health, education and family backgrounds are key to changing behaviour.

The region’s Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and Merseyside Police are adopting this approach in Merseyside; and, after securing £3.37m from the Home Office, have established the newly-formed multi-agency Violence Reduction Unit, which will spearhead this work. The new taskforce will bring together Merseyside Police, National Probation Service, health and education professionals, youth workers, academia and local authorities to address the underlying causes of violent crime and work together with communities to prevent it.

Today’s seminar at the Quaker Meeting House on School Lane, Liverpool, aims to inform that work, give partners a greater understanding of the public health approach and generate ideas on how they can get involved with the Violence Reduction Unit.

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “Violent crime brings devastation and misery, blighting the lives of victims, families and whole communities. The best way to fight it is by preventing crime in the first place.

“Scotland was the first country in the world to adopt a public health approach to violence. Once dubbed the murder capital of Europe, it now has violence rates below the English average. Cardiff too is ahead of the game in implementing this approach. The results of this work speak for themselves. We want to learn from their successes and benefit from their experiences, identifying what’s worked for them and what we can implement here in Merseyside to make the biggest difference for our communities.

“The police have a vital role – enforcement is essential - but it is not sufficient to simply lock people up.  We need to use experts from across all sectors to pool their knowledge and their talents in a big push to identify and address the underlying causes of serious violence – using evidence to develop effective initiatives which can be pushed out across the region.

“It means focussing more on our young people to prevent them from becoming involved in crime or becoming victims of crime. It means putting measures in place to prevent people from becoming caught in the revolving door of crime, so they can see a pathway out.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead we need to listen and learn, identify the most effective strategies for tackling serious violence and put them in place here. It means changing our emphasis to see violence as a disease, which can be prevented if we all pull together to address the root causes.

“I hope today’s seminar will help everyone to better understand what we want to achieve through the Violence Reduction Unit and how they can play their part. By getting involved, they will be helping to reduce violence, save lives and make Merseyside a safer place to live.

“My sincere thanks to Niven and Jonathan for giving their time to speak to us today.”

The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) was originally founded in 2005 by Strathclyde Police who, in the face of rising homicide rates wanted to try a different approach to tackling violence. That year Scotland had been branded the most violent country in the developed world. Expanded into a national unit in 2006, the SVRU has seen homicides fall to their lowest level since 1976.

Director of the Scottish VRU, Niven Rennie, said: “The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit has been operating since 2005, applying a public health model to a problem that had afflicted Scotland for generations. Since that time homicide in Scotland has fallen from 137 victims in 2005 to 59 in 2017/18.  We recognise that we still have much work to do in order to bring about further reductions but we are delighted to share our experience with colleagues in Merseyside as they create a similar unit aimed at combatting violence and the causes of violence.”

The Cardiff Violence Prevention Model was created by surgeon and professor at Cardiff University, Jonathan Shepherd, who has been discussing the concept of data sharing and developing violence prevention interventions since 1996.

Professor Shepherd said: “Cardiff's Violence Reduction Unit was the first formal, multi-agency violence prevention initiative. Founded in 1997 because accident and emergency departments were discovered to be sources of unique information key to violence prevention, it has been adopted in many UK, US and Australian cities. This Cardiff Model has a great deal to contribute to the safety of people in Merseyside.”

The event will also include an update on the progress of Merseyside’s own Violence Reduction Unit and group discussions at which members will be invited to share which elements of the Scottish and Cardiff models they think would work best in Merseyside and how they can contribute to this new approach.