Tackling violent crime requires both prevention and police enforcement

Q&A: A public health approach to tackling violent crime

12 September 2018

Violent crime has risen across England and Wales - ruining lives, devastating communities and leaving families bereft. To tackle this, we need both police enforcement and prevention.

Here is a short overview of the idea of dealing with violence as a public health issue:

What is a public health approach to tackling violent crime?

A public health approach treats violence like any other health issue that causes disease or physical harm. First, you work to contain it and stop it spreading, and then you address the causes, to lower the chances of it happening again. Throughout medical history, we have learned to combat infectious diseases by containing the spread, and prevent future outbreaks by putting money into designing better public education, sanitation, medical care and housing. The idea is that the same approach used in tackling disease can be deployed to cut knife crime and other forms of violent crime.

What does it mean in practice?

In practice, a public health approach means intervening at critical moments in a young person’s life. For example, if a young person has been excluded from school, suffered trauma, experienced a family breakdown or been a victim of violence themselves, it means stepping in to give them the right support at the right time. A troubled upbringing, and specifically the factors listed above, makes it more likely that a young person will commit violence later in life. By addressing these risk factors in young people, it is possible to prevent violent incidents in the future.

Isn’t cutting crime about policing?

Tough, intelligent policing is crucial to tackling violent crime and anyone breaking the law must be caught, punished and reformed. But the police cannot solve violent crime alone – prevention is crucial, too. As well as focusing on enforcement, City Hall looks to learn from what has worked in other places to prevent serious youth violence from occurring in the first place. 

Has this been tried anywhere else?

Scotland’s public health approach to tackling youth violence has been much talked about. Over ten years, this saw a massive reduction in knife crime, particularly in Glasgow. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and Sophie Linden, deputy mayor for policing, have visited Scotland to learn more about how the public health approach worked, while Mayor Sadiq Khan has met the team responsible in London.

Scotland did not adopt a public health approach as an alternative to tough policing, but in addition to it. In Glasgow, police played a major role in the early days by containing violent incidents, just like acting to contain a disease.

Could the same thing work in London?

Scotland had a few key things on its side – solid funding, a long–term strategy that took a decade to work, and all key agencies in Glasgow on board and accountable to one administration. This is more difficult in London where the system is fragmented. The Mayor’s remit includes setting out the police’s strategic priorities but he does not have the power to direct other agencies that make a difference, which answer to central government and need to be willing to cooperate to make the public health approach a success.  

How is City Hall taking a public health approach?

The Mayor’s Knife Crime Strategy, published in June 2017, outlined a public health approach for London. For example, major trauma centres in London hospitals share information about violence that is not reported to the police. Sadiq is also working with Ofsted and local councils on tackling serious violent crime, and chairs the London Crime Reduction Board, which brings together NHS England with other the relevant agencies across the capital.