How situational crime reduction helped Scotland with reducing knife crime

Dr Andrew Iles shares his thoughts on reducing knife crime in Scotland through the use of situational crime reduction.

The annual conference of the forensic faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists is an important date in the calendar for many forensic psychiatrists. In March 2019, the meeting, which was held in Vienna, dedicated its keynote speeches to the reduction of harm. Our expert, Dr Andrew Iles, heard about how situational crime reduction helped tackle Scotland’s knife culture. The presenter, Dr John Crichton (Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland and Vice President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) reported the sustained fall in Scottish homicide rates to 11 per million in 2017 – 2018, which was equal to half of the homicide rate at its peak in 2005.

Dr Crichton told the conference how the Violence Reduction Unit targeted young men in high-risk areas. Community support was given, and stiff penalties were introduced to reduce carrying knives outside the home. The fall in the homicide rate was highest between young men in public places. From 2005 to 2016, the police in Scotland recorded a 69% fall in cases of offensive weapon carrying.

The Violence Reduction Unit

The unit was founded in 2005 by Strathclyde Police.  Because of rising homicide rates, the force soughtto try a different approach to tackling violence. That year Scotland had been namedthe most violent country in the developed world.  In one year alone,there were 137 murders; 41 of those deaths were in Glasgow city alone. Following a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) the city was dubbed the “murder capital” of Europe.

Why Do People Carry Knives?

There are many reasons why people, and, in particular, young men, carry knives. For some, knife-carrying is an integral part of a risky lifestyle which involves engaging in violent and non-violent offending. For some young men, the carrying of a knife may represent the rules of gang membership. However, research suggests that people who carry knives are likely to have underlying vulnerabilities.

These include:

  • Lack of parental guidance
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • Poor self-esteem, and a
  • A tendency to inflict deliberate injuries on themselves (potentially with the knives they carry)

Knife crime statistics show that knife-related crime is on the increase. Offenders who are charged with possession of an article with a blade or a point may also disclose paranoid beliefs and may fear they are in danger. Sometimes knife-carrying may be associated with a mental disorder which is why psychiatrists are often called to assess those who are charged with offences relating to bladed and pointed articles. Our experts are very experienced in assessing people charged with such offences. Instructions typically concern a defendant’s fitness to plead, but our experts are also called to provide evidence to the police, to comment on issues at trial (e.g. questions about insanity and capacity to form intent) as well as questions about disposal.

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