2018-07-06 Knife Crime

On Wednesday, the day of Tavis’s funeral, I attended a seminar on knife crime and youth violence here in Parliament.  Charlie Ransford from Chicago, and Karen McCluskey from Glasgow, were there to tell us what actions had worked in reducing violence in their cities.

Their results have been quite spectacular.  In Chicago, shootings have dropped by between 45% and 75%, and retaliation killings have been reduced to zero in 5 out of the 8 districts.  15 years ago Glasgow was the most violent city in Europe – violence in Glasgow last year was at a 45-year low.

Violent crime is crime, of the very worst sort, and no perpetrator should imagine they will get away without severe punishment.  Nobody at the seminar was suggesting that should change, and neither would I.  Everyone needs to know that if they go into a fight armed with a knife – or any other offensive weapon – they will be dealt with forcefully by the law.

But simply stating that violent crime will be punished won’t stop it, or reduce it, or even stem its increase.  The worst consequence of being involved in knife crime is to be knifed – either killed or seriously injured.  And yet young people often rejoin violent gangs even after facing near-death from gang violence.  Clearly fear of injury, or death, or the law is never going to be enough on its own to prevent some young people from becoming involved.

Violence spreads through society like a contagious disease.  Those exposed to violence themselves – often as children in the home – are 30 times more likely to perpetrate it on others than those who have had safe upbringings.  Dr Ransford approached violence in Chicago like a public health problem.  First – stop the transmission of the disease to others.  They put people in the community who could identify potential perpetrators of violence, and worked with them, with their parents, and with the police, to defuse confrontation.  Next – prevent the future spread of the disease, by educating young people about the dangers of getting involved in gangs.  Finally – change what young people think of as normal.  If you grow up among people who think violence is normal, then the chances are you will become violent yourself.  It takes time to create a community where violence is not considered normal behaviour, but in the end it is the only way to break the cycle.

Authorities need methods which are unconventional – and people who are not standard teachers or police officers or social workers.  To reach the young people who are most in need of direction and influence, they must be able to gain their confidence.  They need to speak a language they understand, and they need to have experienced some of the life that those young people have experienced, otherwise they won’t be believed.

Karen McCluskey spoke about the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow, and about the hurdles to dealing with violence in the UK.  One problem is the complexity of leadership – in Ipswich we have a County Council, a Borough Council, a Police & Crime Commissioner, a Police Service, a Care Commissioning Group (NHS), a mental health Trust which covers Norfolk and Suffolk, schools which are governed by various academy providers.  What is essential is that every organisation works closely together, and that is what we are endeavouring to do in Ipswich.

A lot of the same things work in Glasgow as Chicago – and should work in Ipswich. Good parenting really matters.  We need to reduce domestic violence – even if children are not themselves physically attacked, they are traumatised by witnessing violence.  Carers need to focus on families with very young children who may be at risk of violence or of witnessing violence. 

We must do more to prevent school exclusions – 49% of all prisoners have been excluded from school.  Just putting a difficult young person out on the street is no sort of solution to anything.

All of society needs to be involved in dealing with violence.  Doctors and dentists should question regular or unexplained injuries, and Police and Social Services should take their concerns seriously.  Borough and District councils should have housing policies which can move people when they are in danger.

Ipswich is very different from Glasgow. But there are lessons to be learned from other towns, other police forces and other health services.  I believe the will is there to make violence in Ipswich a thing of the past.  If we all work together we will eventually get there.  And who knows, in a few years people might be talking about the “Ipswich Model” of violence prevention.