A multi-agency approach
There has been a lot of media debate around the Home Office’s new Serious Violence Strategy published on Monday (9 April 2018), most of it focusing on Home Secretary Amber Rudd avoiding the issue of whether large reductions in police numbers are partly to blame for the recent surge in murders and knife crimes in London in particular.
Criminal justice commentators have, on the whole, been pleasantly surprised that the strategy appears to be quite evidence-based and focuses in large part on prevention.
I summarise the main elements of the strategy below.
The strategy sets out the Home Office analysis of the evidence and the trends and drivers of serious violent crime. The evidence shows that while overall crime continues to fall, homicide, knife crime and gun crime have risen since 2014 across virtually all police force areas in England and Wales. Robbery has also risen sharply since 2016.
These increases have been accompanied by a shift towards younger victims and perpetrators. Most of the violence is also male on male. About half the rise in robbery, knife and gun crime is due to improvements in police recording. For the remainder, drug-related cases seem to be an important driver. Between 2014/15 and 2016/17, homicides where either the victim or suspect were known to be involved in using or dealing illicit drugs increased from 50% to 57%.
Crack cocaine markets have strong links to serious violence and evidence suggests crack use is rising in England and Wales due to a mix of supply and demand factors. Drug-market violence may also be facilitated and spread to some extent by social media. A small minority are using social media to glamorise gang or drug-selling life, taunt rivals and normalise weapons carrying. There has also been an increase in vulnerable groups susceptible to the related exploitation and/or drug use.
The strategy is framed on four key themes:
- tackling county lines and misuse of drugs,
- early intervention and prevention,
- supporting communities and partnerships, and
- an effective law enforcement and criminal justice response.
The Home Office is supporting the development of a new National County Lines Co‑ordination Centre. It will continue to raise awareness of county lines and the related exploitation, and will provide funding to support delivery of a new round of Heroin and Crack Action Areas.
The Home Office has committed £11 million over the next two years through a new Early Intervention Youth Fund to provide support to communities for early intervention and prevention with young people.
The Department will support Redthread to expand and pilot its Youth Violence Intervention Programme outside London, starting with Nottingham and Birmingham, and to develop its service in major London hospitals.
The Home Office will also continue to fund Young People’s Advocates working with gang-affected young women and girls, and exploring whether the model should be expanded. The Home Office will work with the Department for Education and Ofsted to explore what more can be done to support schools in England to respond to potential crime risks and to provide additional support to excluded children.
The strategy document highlights the importance of Police and Crime Commissioners to “galvanise the local response to tackling serious violence and ensure that they are reflecting local challenges within their plans”.
The Home Office has launched a new media campaign raising awareness about the risks of carrying knives (see the video at the end of this post). The Home Office is also providing up to £1 million for the Community Fund in both 2018/19 and 2019/20, in addition to continuing the Ending Gang Violence and Exploitation (EGVE) Fund and EGVE review programme.
The Home Office is planning new legislation to strengthen controls on knives, corrosive substances and firearms. PEEL inspections will also focus on serious
violence and support a thematic inspection of county lines in 2018/19. The Home Office has commissioned the Centre for Applied Science and Technology to ensure that the police have the capability to undertake street testing for corrosives.