Recently, the BBC asked me if I would go with a television crew to Glasgow. They were planning a story for Look North about violent crime.
They wanted to get my reaction to a project that has been running in Scotland since 2005 and which seems to have had considerable success. It’s called the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and it takes an approach to crime called the ‘public health model’.
This treats violent crime as if it were a disease. The way to stop a disease spreading is by tacking the causes, not just dealing with those already infected. It’s about prevention as much as cure.
Before the VRU got going, Glasgow was known as the murder capital of Europe. Serious violence seemed out of control. There were stabbings and shootings and high numbers of homicides.
Over a ten year period those terrifying figures fell dramatically.
The lesson of this approach is that if you are going to get to the roots of why people get caught up in violence and keep them away from it, you need a range of partners to help, not just the police.
So, for instance, I heard about a VRU project called Navigators and had a long conversation with someone who had been helped by it.
Callum had carried a knife since he was eleven. He said it was ‘for protection’. All his life he had lived in fear – fear of getting caught if he carried a knife or getting hurt if he didn’t.
In the end he was stabbed nine times and taken to hospital. Here he met a Navigator – a former gang member who had managed to break from them and make something of his life. The Navigator acted as a mentor to Callum, helping him to get off alcohol and hold down a job.
I met Callum over lunch in a café in Glasgow Dental Hospital. This is run by ex-offenders who want to give up violence and become part of normal society. They learn how to cook, how to serve customers, how to get up every morning and go to work.
At the same time, the police have to tackle the gangs, identifying who gang members are and coming down hard on them.
The day after I visited Glasgow the government announced they were sending South Yorkshire £1.6m to set up a VRU!
We shall look for similar good outcomes in Rotherham as in Glasgow.