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The Serious Violence Strategy

The Home Office published the Serious Violence Strategy on 9 April 2018.  The Home Office gave the following overview of the Strategy:

Law enforcement is a very important part of the Serious Violence Strategy, but it also looks at the root causes of the problem and how to support young people to lead productive lives away from violence.

Action in the strategy is centred on 4 main themes: 

  • tackling county lines and misuse of drugs
  • early intervention and prevention
  • supporting communities and local partnerships
  • law enforcement and the criminal justice response

The strategy describes a range of initiatives including:

  • a new £11 million Early Intervention Youth Fund to support communities for early intervention and prevention with young people for 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020
  • the development of a new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre to tackle violent and exploitative criminal activity associated with county lines
  • funding to help deliver a new round of heroin and crack action areas
  • more rounds of the anti-knife crime Community Fund of up to £1 million for 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020
  • more funding for young people’s advocates working with gang-affected young women and girls

The strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention which can help catch young people before they go down the wrong path, encouraging them to make positive choices.

The Strategy also includes reference to the planned Offensive Weapons Bill, which the Government said (in April 2018) would be brought forward “within weeks”: see Home Office press release, Home Office announces plans for Offensive Weapons Bill to tackle serious violence, 8 April 2018.  The planned legislation follows a Home Office consultation on offensive weapons that ran from October to December 2017: see Consultation on new legislation on offensive and dangerous weapons.  The Government has not yet published a full formal response to the consultation.

The Strategy also set out the Government’s plans to establish “a new cross sector Serious Violence Taskforce with key representatives from a range of national, local and delivery partner agencies” to oversee delivery of the Strategy.  Membership of the Taskforce was announced later in April: see Home Office press release, New taskforce to take action against violent crime, 25 April 2018.

Reaction to the Strategy

Initial reaction to the Strategy from groups such as the Local Government Association and charities involved in tackling serious violence was generally positive, with praise for its emphasis on the importance of early intervention.  However, the need for ongoing funding to facilitate this was also highlighted.

There was controversy over the fact that the Strategy did not include any direct reference to the relationship between police numbers and violent crime rates. 

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph ahead of the Strategy’s publication, the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said that any contention that there were “not enough officers on the streets” to tackle the threat of serious violence needed to be “put to rest”:

The evidence does not support this. In the early Noughties, when serious violent crimes were at their highest, police numbers were rising. In 2008, when knife crime was far greater than the lows we saw in 2013/14, police numbers were close to the highest we’d seen in decades.

So while I understand that police are facing emerging threats and new pressures – leading us to increase total investment in policing – the evidence does not bear out claims that resources are to blame for rising violence.

However, press reports said that a leaked Home Office memorandum suggested that increased demands on police at a time of falling officer numbers might be an “underlying driver” of serious violence.  The Guardian – one of the media outlets to have seen the memorandum – provided the following summary:

The document is entitled Serious violence; latest evidence on the drivers. A section on police resources says: “Since 2012/3, weighted crime demand on the police has risen, largely due to growth in recorded sex offences. At the same time officers’ numbers have fallen by 5% since 2014.

“So resources dedicated to serious violence have come under pressure and charge rates have dropped. This may have encouraged offenders. “[It is] unlikely to be the factor that triggered the shift in serious violence, but may be an underlying driver that has allowed the rise to continue.” A highlighted box emphasises that point: “Not the main driver but has likely contributed.”

The Strategy did not ultimately include any direct reference to the impact of police numbers, although it did include (on p24) the following observations on arrest and charge trends:

We also know that the certainty of punishment is likely to have a greater impact than its severity. The recent downward trend in arrests and charges for some crimes lessens the certainty of punishment.

It gave the example of robbery, where the number of offences has risen but the number of charges has remained “broadly flat, meaning the percentage of offences resulting in a charge has fallen”.

Speaking to the Today Programme, Amber Rudd said it was “a “mistake” and a “disservice” to communities and families to blame police numbers alone”.  She added that she had not seen the Home Office memorandum that had been leaked to the press.

The Times reported that, speaking on LBC Radio, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick had commented that there were “lots of reasons” for an increase in violent crime, including the drugs markets, changes in people’s financial and economic circumstances, the glamorisation of violence, and the role of social media in encouraging gang violence.  She added that “of course I would be naïve to say that the reduction in police finances over the last few years, not just in London but beyond, hasn’t had an impact”, and that police numbers were “part of the issue”.

Statistics on serious violence are in Section 2 of the debate pack. 

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