Violence Reduction Unit
The Violence Reduction Unit of Police Scotland was established in January 2005 by Strathclyde Police to target all forms of violent behaviour. The unit adopted a public health approach to violence as described in the WHO’s "World Report On Violence and Health" (2002), and was inspired by the successful Operation Ceasefire implemented in Boston, US, in 1995. Its aims are to reduce violent crime and behaviour by working with agencies in fields such as health, education and social work; to achieve long-term societal and attitudinal change by focusing on enforcement; and to contain and manage individuals who carry weapons, or who are involved in violent behaviour. The unit also aims to explore best practices and develop sustainable, innovative solutions to the deep-rooted problem of violence. The VRU is estimated to cost $1.5 million to operate annually.
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In April 2006, the Scottish Government extended the VRU’s remit nationwide, thus creating a national centre of expertise on violent crime to work alongside the Government’s Violence Reduction Team. As of 2011, Scotland is the only country in the world that uses a public health approach to combat violence, and the VRU are the only police members of the WHO’s Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA).
Following the success of the Glasgow VRU, one was set up in London copying some of the work of the Glasgow unit, with Lib Peck, the former leader of Lambeth council, appointed to head it in January 2019. Peck said in June 2019 that increased use of stop and search in the early part of the programme had been successful. Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that he was giving £35m to police and crime commissioners in 18 local areas to set up their own local violence reduction units.
In 2008 the VRU set up its gangs initiative, the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), in the East End of Glasgow. The VRU's approach was modeled on anti-crime techniques developed by Gary Slutkin. Using a partnership approach that includes Police Scotland, Social services in Scotland, Education Scotland and other entities, the initiative counters gang activity through operational activity, diversion projects, and help with careers, education, and anger management. By 2011, more than 400 young men had joined the initiative.
The unit works closely with the Medics Against Violence charity, The medics intervene with secondary pupils, educating on the risks around violence and its consequences. Together with the VRU the medics also provide training to dentists to intervene in domestic violence while the patient is in the dentist's chair.
A key part of the VRU’s work is developing early childhood initiatives that support parents and those involved in teaching young children. These initiatives aim to give children skills that will keep them from becoming involved in violence later in life.
The VRU has given evidence to government finance committees on preventative spending, urging government support for parenting programmes and life skills development programmes as a way to reduce violence in the long run.
As of 2017 the VRU currently runs a number of programmes: Navigator (VRU) aims to stop the revolving door of violent injury in our hospitals. The programme engages with patients at a moment when they may be open to breaking free from the challenges trapping them in a cycle of violence. The programme was launched at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 2015 with two Navigators based in the emergency department. Following success at GRI, Navigator was expanded to include the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the team was increased to four. Navigators complement the work of medical staff by engaging with patients who have been affected by violence. Using a wide range of contacts with services outside the emergency room the Navigators offer support to help patients change their lives. The aim is to break the cycle of violence for the individual and ease the pressure that violence places on the NHS. The VRU also runs Braveheart Industries which in 2016 launched the Street & Arrow food truck based in Glasgow's Mansfield Park. The truck serves up second chances to former offenders offering them a route back into the labour market and a life free from violence.
Niven Rennie, director of Scotland's VRU, said that a key element of the unit's early work was stop and search, a controversial policy: "you can’t have enforcement without search ... you have to stop people dying before you can start making improvements, and then prevention comes after that".
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