Avon and Somerset Police are working to tackle the root cause of knife crime and serious violence following the Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC) inaugural Strategic Violence Reduction Unit meeting.
Our representatives joined partners including the PCC, the five local authorities, Public Health England, clinical commissioning groups and education in each area to meet for the first time since the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner was awarded £1.16m by the Home Office in June to set up a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) as part of the government’s national Serious Violence Strategy.
The first meeting took place as national police Operation Sceptre rolled out a series of education workshops in schools across Avon and Somerset. It is widely recognised that a public health approach of education and diversion is desperately needed alongside enforcement in order to solve the problem of serious violence and knife crime on our streets.
The PCC has allocated the VRU funding to the five local authority areas within Avon and Somerset according to the level and nature of serious violence they are experiencing so that opportunities for prevention and early intervention can be identified locally and given a local response.
Avon and Somerset Police will work with education and health partners, to identify the drivers of serious violence in their area and collaborate in developing a co-ordinated responses to tackle them.
The PCC commissioned a special report by The Behavioural Insights Team. Entitled ‘Developing a Serious Violence Strategy for Avon and Somerset. The report will provide a starting point for Avon and Somerset Police to understand the nature of serious violence as well as providing evidence on how to approach the issue.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cullen added: “The setting up of the VRU for Avon and Somerset will firmly establish a hub for agencies to work together collaboratively and model the public health approach, which has been so effective in reducing violent crime in Scotland.
“The funding will support initiatives across the whole of Avon and Somerset, not just in urban areas and larger cities such as Bristol. The VRU will not be starting from scratch, but will build on the fantastic work that is already taking place in our communities. A key aspect of their work will be to prevent vulnerable children and young people from being drawn into crime and violence.”
PCC Sue Mountstevens said: “After a successful first meeting with the VRU, I firmly believe that by working together on a public health approach we can tackle serious violence and keep our communities safe.
“By taking action together we can protect the most vulnerable in our communities from becoming victims, we can stop young people from being exploited and we can find solutions to support those at risk of being drawn into a life of violence. I know all our partners are passionate about working on new and pre-existing initiatives in their area and, as the PCC, I look forward to supporting their work.”
Cllr Paul Crossley, Cabinet Member for Community Services at Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “There is a lot of public concern about this issue across the region so I welcome this funding, some of which will support the work we are doing in Bath and North East Somerset. It will give us all the opportunity to understand the impact this issue has on our communities and what can be done to address and reduce violent crime.”
North Somerset Council Leader Cllr Don Davies also welcomed the Home Office Funding. He said: “There are already many different strands of work in Weston-super-Mare town centre and it is crucial that all local partner agencies, businesses, the voluntary sector and the community work together to ensure that these have the greatest impact in tackling serious violence. This funding will enable us to adopt a ‘one team’ approach, focused on providing sustainable solutions that prevent serious violence problems escalating.”
Lucy Macready, Public Health Specialist for Somerset County Council, said: “Whilst Somerset remains a safe place to live, I’m delighted to have an opportunity through the creation of the VRU to learn more about our communities and find innovative solutions to help those most at risk of being victims or offenders of serious violence.”
Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Communities at Bristol City Council, said “We are looking forward to working with the police, the OPCC and all other partners to protect our young people. We’ve established Safer Options teams to work with services already on the ground to understand who is at risk, the support available to those people and how best to widen that support in our communities so that we are all helping to steer vulnerable young people away from the risk of exploitation and towards a more positive pathway.’’
Councillor Toby Savage, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, said: “As a council we are determined to prevent the violence we see in other parts of the country gaining a foothold locally. Local councils already do a great deal of work that prevents problems and I very much welcome this approach being taken to help keep crime levels low in South Gloucestershire.”
Dr Jonathan Hayes, Clinical Chair for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG, added: “We know that violence has a wide ranging impact on the health of people and society, and it’s important that we all work together to tackle it.
“By working together with partners through the VRU, we will be better able to address the root causes of violent crime. For the NHS, this means supporting people who are at risk of violence at a much earlier stage, rather than when they reach crisis point – meaning better outcomes for individuals and better use of public resources.”
Kevin Elliston, Deputy Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England South West, said: “We know that violent events or actions have both a physical consequence and an emotional response. However, we also know that violence can cause a continued ripple effect across behaviours and social norms, impacting on education, housing and more – not just for the victim, but also for their families and communities.
“Public Health England’s South West centre welcomes the formation of the Avon and Somerset Strategic Violence Reduction Unit and the opportunity to work with partners across Avon and Somerset to address the root causes of violence in our communities.”
Mark Griffin, the education lead for the VRU, added: “The establishment of the VRU presents a fantastic opportunity to address many of the issues surrounding violence in our society. It is very encouraging that bodies can come together to work jointly on this. I look forward to representing secondary head teachers to forge a strong and effective partner with the VRU.”