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Treating violence as a disease – major seminar puts issue under the microscope

Merseyside / August 06

A major seminar being hosted today by the region’s Police Commissioner aims to examine the public health approach to tackling serious violence.

  • Police Commissioner hosts workshop to equip more than 90 professionals with a greater understanding of a public health approach to tackling serious violence.

  • International violence reduction expert Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman will detail how approach transformed the city of Cali in Colombia.

More than 80 professionals from across a variety of sectors are expected to attend the event which will include a first-hand account of how this approach was used to transform the city of Cali in Colombia.

Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman is a former Regional Advisor for Violence and Injury Prevention to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the Americas. He was pivotal in introducing and using a public health approach in Cali, which saw the homicide rate more than halved in just 13 years. The approach focuses on looking at the roots of violence and seeing it as a disease which can be treated and prevented, rather than as a matter of law and order.

As early as 2002, the WHO released a report recommending that violence be treated as a public health issue. This approach has since been adopted internationally in Colombia, America and Canada, and closer to home in Scotland and Cardiff with major success. Glasgow’s murder rate has dropped by 60% in a decade.

Now, the region’s Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and Merseyside Police are working to adopt this approach in Merseyside; and, after securing £3.37m from the Home Office, are putting plans in place with partners to establish a Violence Reduction Unit, which will spearhead this work. Today’s seminar at Merseyside Police headquarters in Canning Place aims to inform that work, give partners a greater understanding of the public health approach and generate ideas on how partners can get involved.

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “We need to learn from experience across the world. Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman is recognised as a leading authority in this field and he is very kindly giving his time to talk about how this approach was used to transform the city of Cali in Colombia.

“The violence faced by the citizens of Cali far exceeded anything we face here in the UK, but by using this approach Dr Concha-Eastman and his colleagues saw extraordinary results.

“This approach has already been successfully implemented in Scotland and Cardiff, where the results speak for themselves. We need to learn from their successes. I hope this seminar will be the first of a series of lectures, where we can listen and learn from others for the benefit of everyone living in Merseyside.

“We need to do things differently. We need to be bolder, braver and more forward-thinking. That means changing our emphasis to see violence as a disease, which can be prevented. It will take time, possibly as long as 10 years, but we know it works.

“The police have a vital role - enforcement plays a key role - but it is only part of the story. It is not sufficient to simply lock people up.  By using the best available evidence, we can develop better informed, more effective tactics to prevent violence from occurring. That 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 are well underway with our plans to establish our Violence Reduction Unit which will lead on this work and the response so far has been fantastic. I hope today’s seminar will help everyone to better understand what we want to achieve and how they can contribute to make sure it succeeds. By doing so, they will be playing their part in saving lives, reducing violence and helping Merseyside to be a safer place to live.”

Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman said: "I am convinced that if we apply basic principles and keep them in place as long as needed, then the possibility of doing prevention of violence working in the medium and long term, is a great opportunity. I would insist in primary prevention since early childhood, in school years and early adolescent years, for both boys and girls. Developing a reliable information system that gathers the required data to plan and follow up projects is as well badly needed. I look forward to the meeting in Liverpool to share and learn as much from you too".

The event will also see presentations from the Commissioner’s Public Health Advisor and the former Regional Director of Public Health for the North West, Dr John Aston CBE and Merseyside Police’s Superintendent Mark Wiggins, who is leading on establishing the region’s Violence Reduction Unit.

Superintendent Mark Wiggins said: ““This is an excellent opportunity for partner agencies to work even more closely together across Merseyside using the public health approach which has worked in other areas of the country and internationally to reduce serious violence and provide alternative opportunities particularly for younger people.

“It will ensure we are all focused on longer term approaches and looking at effective prevention and early intervention to reduce the devastating impact violence has on communities.”

Professor John Ashton said: “Serious violence is a disease which is infecting our communities. There is now, long-overdue recognition that this issue needs a public health response.

“In this country much has been made of the recent efforts in Scotland, but the roots of this approach can be traced to Cali in Colombia and the work delivered by Dr Albert Concha-Eastman and his colleagues. His work achieved impressive results and I am thrilled he is coming to Merseyside to share his learning and experience and highlight some of the solutions which made the biggest difference in tackling serious violence.”

Watch Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman's presentation: