About ten years ago, Glasgow, Scotland had a serious problem with violence. In an effort to combat that violence, police believed that efforts had to be taken to fight the culture that “spawned” this violence. One officer called it “caring people into change.” Through their efforts to care people into change, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU)–a unit formed to address the serious problem of violence in Glasgow–was able to halve violent crime.
Practically speaking, the VRU accomplished this through a multi-pronged effort. One faction of the VRU, the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), did outreach into gang communities and asked former gang members, paramedics, local law enforcement, and family members of victims to come speak with these communities. The VRU also increased awareness among doctors, nurses, and dentists who were then expected to spot signs of violence and domestic abuse, and “counsel” those victims, would-be offenders, and current offenders, thus creating another avenue of outreach into gang communities. The VRU also enacted policy changes to increase the punishment for those caught with weapons. Police officers’ roles switched from authoritarian enemies of those in gangs, to compassionate responders. Participants of violence would be punished more severely than before the VRU’s efforts, but police were attempting to ensure that less people ever reached that point of violence or reached that point more than once.
It seems like the common denominator between most of these tactics–perhaps excluding the harsher prison sentences which align with typical efforts to stem crime–is fostering community and empathy. The police and the government were no longer unsympathetic, authoritarian figures, but facilitators of compassionate change and an invitation into a community that often excluded these gang members. They still had a duty to law-abiding citizens, hence the stricter punishments, but they now were taking responsibility for the care and improvement of the offenders as well.
Perhaps creating more inclusive and empathetic communities is one of the keys to decreasing violence. The director of the VRU claimed that a big part of the problem is inequality–many of the offenders were raised in traumatic environments with no way of escape or improvement. As children, violent offenders are often abused or victimized by violent criminals, and the community (including local law enforcement and government) fails to protect them or assist them in becoming functioning members of society. Indeed, law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t get involved until much later when these children grew into violent offenders prompting punishment and legal action. The method of using prison time as one of the sole deterrents of crime, she claims, does not work and cites America, who relies heavily upon prison sentences, as an example.
If the creation of more inclusive and empathetic communities is one method for violent crime deterrence, it seems like this is something that should begin with children. The VRU was able to significantly decrease crime through their attempts at changing the culture and taking a more empathetic approach with those that have already offended. However, perhaps this could be started much earlier. If these issues stem largely from traumatic childhoods, how can children be helped? This seems like an impossibly large problem and may require a variety of methods to meet this need. Until then, Glasgow has provided an interesting example of how violent crime can be deterred beyond the American “tag ’em and bag ’em” approach utilizing a multi-solution approach instead. Perhaps more outreach into violent communities could help deter violence.