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Scotland's Approach to Knife Crime: Adopting a Public Health Model

With knife crime rising in England, attention has turned to Scotland where a continued fall in knife crime has been recorded over the past decade. There has been a conscious effort to see whether the successes and lessons learned in Scotland can be applied in London, where police figures have shown the most significant increase in knife crime.

Of fundamental interest is the way in which Scotland has taken a ‘public health’ approach to the issue; seeking to understand and address the root causes of violence and working with community members from a young age to tackle the cycle of violence early on.

This development was driven by the creation of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in 2005, which was established after Glasgow was branded the ‘murder capital’ of Europe, and a World Health Organisation (WHO) study discovered Scotland had the second highest murder rate in Western Europe.

A distinctive approach was taken by the VRA which integrated traditional policing methods with collaboration from health, education and social work sectors. The organisation targeted youths who were most at risk and took a holistic approach in offering support and intervention in order to reduce the risk of violence.

Fall in Offensive Weapon Offence, Glasgow

Assaults involving knives in Glasgow had fallen by a third from 2006-2012, and figures from Police Scotland highlighted a stark reduction in knife crime of 68% in the past decade – from a peak of 10,110 recorded incidents of handling an offensive weapon in 2006-07 to 3,271 in 2016-17.

In February 2018, the Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick visited Glasgow to learn more about the VRA’s work, and a new program inspired by the efforts of the VRA was established in the London borough of Islington in 2016.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said "I have been clear that knife crime is not something that can be solved by the police or criminal justice system alone…We have learned the lessons from Scotland and elsewhere, where a public health approach has been very effective."

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