How can Strength-Based Community Engagement directly contribute to the goal of reducing levels of violent crime?
The Government’s July 2018 report ‘The economic and social costs of crime – second edition’ found that the cost of crimes against individuals exceeds £50 billion each year. While every violent crime with injury was found to cost over £14,000, £2,500 of that total is associated with the costs of responding to, and investigating those crime. The majority of the costs (£11,200) account for the physical/emotional harm to victims, lost output and health/victim services.
Knife crime is increasing in the UK as are deaths associated with knife crime and the number of young people receiving medical treatment for knife crime. There are many who consider that the current rise in knife crime equates to an epidemic on a scale not previously seen in the UK.
As knife crime specifically, and violent crimes more generally, rise so does the number of young people being affected by knife crime – as victims, perpetrators, witnesses, or just living in fear. The potential long-term consequence of this increase in crime will be the dramatic increase in the number of young people carrying Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) into adulthood. On top of the cost of violent crime, this increase in ACEs will inevitably leave more young people with adverse physical/mental health, self-harming and behavioural consequences.
It is therefore essential that alongside a robust response to crime, there is a growing need to build individual and community resilience as well as raised awareness and understanding of the impact of violent crime. As well as reducing the number of violent crimes recorded across the UK, it is also vital that the strategic approach seeks to take a risk reduction approach – moving high and medium risk young people into a normal range of risk.
Traditionally, when faced with a crime challenge, the police have invested heavily in tactics that seek to deal directly with the incidences that occur in a locality. Proven tactics tackling violence such as gang/peer workshops, school-based activity and dynamic patrolling are all part of a balanced and responsible approach. Just as the issues that both create serious violent crime and allow it to endure are complex and multi-dimensional, so too the response to this crisis must be as complex and multi-dimensional. In addition, the issues surrounding violent crime differ from place to place, many drivers of violence are intrinsically local in nature and the response needs to be localised too.
Those commentators advocating a Public Health Approach to violent crime recognise that solutions and prevention do not fit neatly into single agency boxes. A Public Health Approach needs to focus not on at-risk individuals but upon whole populations with a focus upon collective responsibility and a partnership with the population affected to garner their support. Some key factors associated with a successful Public Health Approach are;
- A focus upon a defined population – whether that is where you live, common or demographic characteristics
- A focus on improving outcomes for communities by listening to them and jointly designing interventions with them
- Not being constrained by organisational or professional boundaries – look as widely across all ‘partnerships’ for the right solutions
- A focus upon developing long term solutions but take action now rooted in the evidence of what is effective
When we look across the globe today, the answers to the most challenging of crises is drawing upon new community led solutions and embracing the ‘new power’ revolution of grass-root energy and ideas. Who would ever have thought that a Swedish schoolgirl was capable of actually reducing the harmful effects of climate change – but inspired by Greta Thunberg’s passion, young people across the world are adopting meat-free diets and aggression-free activism to bring about both policy and behaviour change. Embracing this type of approach in tackling violent crime will pay dividends.
In addition to proven tactics, the MutualGain programmes are also specifically designed to ensure that it delivers a significant contribution to reducing violence. UK evidence suggests that reducing violent crime needs solutions that are both multi-agency in nature and are more than short-term ‘fixes’. Crucial to reducing violent crime is the participation of, and commitment from those communities affected by such crime.
The MutualGain programmes enable solutions, tactics and interventions to be designed with an understanding from the local communities of
- what crime means
- a better understanding of why violence happens
- what motivates violent offenders.
Solutions designed by and delivered in part by those affected by violent crime are more likely to be able to sustain reductions.
Our programmes support violent crime reduction in five ways;
- The programme will mobilise local communities to be part of the change that they want to see happen. A range of new community led solutions will be designed, supported and put into effect to build the required increase in local social capital capable of reducing how crime affects those communities;
- Hearing new voices and opening up new channels of engagement will generate new ideas and new intelligence as to how and why violent crime is impacting upon local people. Even if this information is not taken up by local groups this information can be utilised by statutory agencies in informing their strategic and tactical approach to reducing violence;
- Organisations working with local people and focusing upon people, consequences and emotions will build stronger partnership working. Improved partnership working is more capable of increasing collective effort and also of improving the effectiveness of a shared approach to violence. New partnership relationships are regularly built between existing groups, but also the creation of new community groups will reduce the reliance upon single agency solutions to violence;
- Strength based community engagement builds strong channels of information flow – between individuals, across agencies and also into areas affected by violence. This information flow will be used to inform and educate those whose lives are affected by violence to enable them to better access support, be more reassured about risk and offer/exchange support with those for whom violence is an increasing risk; and
- Deliberative engagement between communities affected by violence and their local police has been proven to reduce the fear of crime and increase the level of trust in policing. Consolidated, amplified and targeted this can be used to reduce the ‘defensive’ carrying of knives which in time will impact upon the level of violence.
In line with a Public Health Approach to violent crime and a risk reduction focus, our programmes work with whole communities, listen and involve them in solutions and develop partnerships that look equally at crimes, safety fears and the ACEs associated with violence.
The extent to which each programme is able to reduce levels of violent crime will be determined by the policing approach and the local commitment to the programme. While the MutualGain programmes offer additional opportunities for violent crime reduction, the size and extent of this effect will be shaped by the strategic commitment to building shared solutions and developing closer relationships with those communities affected by violent crime. This is at the heart of the MutualGain philosphy.
Written by Garry Shewan QPM