In September 2018, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced plans to establish a new Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) of specialists in health, police and local government to lead and deliver a long-term public health approach to tackling the causes of violent crime.
Violence Reduction Unit
About the VRU
The new Unit will be a multi-disciplinary team and will work across the city, expanding the work of the Mayor’s Knife Crime Strategy to include wider types of violence and look to address the links between violence in the home and on the street. At its heart is the aim of better understanding the risk factors in a person’s early life that can lead to serious violence by using data from health, criminal justice and other public services. It will also focus on improved and sped up interventions at a local level, with the aim of reducing violence and protecting those vulnerable to exploitation. This work will happen at all levels in the city by working with boroughs, local police Basic Command Units, the local community, families, the health service and criminal justice agencies.
Work is now underway to set up the VRU, steered by a Reference Group of partner organisations involved in the Unit. We will provide updates on this page as the Unit is developed and becomes operational.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have made some really good strides with the Knife Crime Strategy and that focus will continue alongside the work of the VRU. Our new and enhanced partnership will broaden its outlook beyond knife crime to all forms of violence, which will include preventing and reducing knife crime, gun crime or offences involving a corrosive substance, and areas of criminality where serious violence or its threat is inherent, such as in gangs and county lines drug dealing, domestic abuse and sexual violence. The unit will also be initially focusing on those situations where the victim and/or offender is under the age of 25.
The Unit’s work will involve gathering data from health, criminal justice and other public services to identify the underlying risk factors that can lead to violence, diagnose the problem and then assist in the development and the delivery of plans and interventions to tackle them. By having all partners involved in this work and working closely with communities, we can engage all the expertise, resources, legal powers and influence at their disposal and bring them to bear on these issues.
Partnership working is integral to everything we do at City Hall and this will build on the work we have already begun on a public health approach, which includes funding major trauma centres in London hospitals to share information about violence that is not reported to the police and working with Ofsted and local councils on tackling serious violent crime.