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Proper investment and joined-up thinking needed to tackle knife crime

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SHADOW home secretary Diane Abbott is right to emphasise the lessons that might be learnt from Scotland when it comes to dealing with knife crime.

Confronted with the horrific escalation in blade attacks in London so far this year, it is not good enough to concentrate on the failed remedies of the past while ignoring the successful initiatives of the present.

Back in 2004 and 2005, Glasgow earned the unwelcome reputation of being the “murder capital” of western Europe.

Scotland’s biggest city had already become a notorious centre of blade crime.

After some 40 murders, Strathclyde Police decided to try a completely different strategy, rather than continue the ongoing struggle to keep the lid on a boiling pot of deprivation, drug abuse, gangsterism and turf warfare.

Under the inspirational slogan “No Knives, Better Lives,” a range of agencies united to address knife and other violent crime as a public health problem, as a disease no less. 

A Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was set up with a brief to prevent violent crime, while other police officers continued their efforts to solve them.

Since then, the VRU in Glasgow has worked with teachers, parents, local councillors, probation officers, social work staff and youth and community workers to diagnose problems of gang membership and the possession of weapons.

Known gang members and individuals most at risk of recruitment were approached and offered job or training opportunities, housing and various advice and support services, especially young fathers who could be won to seeing how the intergenerational cycle of unemployment, drug abuse, crime and violence might be broken.   

As a similar strategy was rolled out across Scotland, crimes involving a weapon have been cut across that country by more than two-thirds over the past decade. 

Since 2011, no teenager has died by the blade in Glasgow and there were no fatal stabbings anywhere in Scotland last year.

That’s not to say that other methods of murder are unknown there. Furthermore, children are still being excluded from Scotland’s schools for carrying knives and blade attacks continue to happen. 

The point is that young people’s involvement in knife crime and murderous gang warfare has been reduced to historically low levels, especially in Glasgow where once these were uncommonly high.

This picture now contrasts sharply with the bloody one now being seen on the streets of London and some other major cities. 

According to the Metropolitan Police, there were 116 murders in London last year, including 80 fatal stabbings. Teenagers died in 26 of those killings, 20 of them by the knife.

Of course, there will be calls for more constables on the beat, more street searches and stiffer sentences. 

These should not be dismissed lightly, especially where there is evidence that they can make people safer. 

But they are not the complete solution. Scotland has shown a way forward, but this can only work in England and Wales if the police and other agencies have the resources to put it into action. Almost 10 years of cuts in youth work, probation services, leisure provision, school budgets and policing must be reversed.

For that, we need a left-led Labour government. 

Even then and thereafter, much will need to be done to replace a capitalist system in which violence is seen by the state, the mass media and the interests they represent as a source of power, control, conflict resolution and entertainment.

 

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