A new £4 million Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) has today been launched bringing experts together to tackle the causes of violent crime.
The VRU brings together policing, health, local government, education and industry specialists, to name just a few.
The new body will see the experts pool their talents as part of a big push to tackle the causes of violence. New initiatives will be developed, piloted, evaluated and pushed out across the region.
In the West Midlands knife crime has risen by 85% since 2012, gun crime is up by a third and violent crime against the person is up 32% in the last year alone.
Projects earmarked for expansion include current initiatives which place case workers in A&E units to help untangle people from a web of violence, experts based in GP surgeries to help domestic violence victims escape from an abusive partner, violence prevention programmes in schools and packages of support designed to prevent prisoners re-offending after being released.
The VRU will also be responsible for assessing the scale of the violence and which groups are most affected.
Evidence will be shared between organisations to help prevent violence and support local partnerships and communities to put this into practice. The aim is to prevent violence from happening rather than just having to tackle it when it does.
The Home Office has handed the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) a budget of £3.37 million to establish the Violence Reduction Unit, whilst the PCC is also contributing a further £524,000 to the fund and local councils and West Midlands Police are topping it up with an additional £140,000. A condition of the Home Office grant is that it must be spent by April 2020. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is a partner in the project.
A ‘public health approach’, which will be used to tackle violence in this instance, is often used by doctors to contain or prevent the spread of disease and focuses on what can be done to reduce the spread of ill health and protect the public.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, said: “I welcome the launch of the VRU. It shows the commitment we have as a region to work together on tackling the root causes of crime which, in turn, can give all our young people the chance to thrive.
“Cllr Yvonne Davies, the WMCA’s portfolio holder for public service reform and social economy, and myself now look forward to working with the PCC and partners to ensure the VRU’s work reaches across the whole region and into all its sectors. We will also work to embed the unit into our wider plans for public service reform and for growing the economy in a way that benefits all our communities.”
The unit is building on the work already started in the West Midlands and will learn from places like Glasgow, which saw levels of violence dramatically fall after the authorities concentrated on tackling the causes of crime and adopting a ‘public health’ approach.
The new VRU will serve 2.8 million people in West Midlands – from Coventry in the east to Wolverhampton in the west.
The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, said: “After years of austerity and cuts to both police numbers and local services it is my hope that the Violence Reduction Unit can be a real force for good.
“The VRU will be set up and designed to tackle the causes of crime and, in the process, reduce the number of victims and perpetrators.
“This is the first time, in recent history, that the public sector has come together, on this scale, to address and reduce violence in our region in this way. I welcome the opportunity that this brings and pledge to work tirelessly with partners to reduce levels of violence in our region.
“Alongside the work of the VRU I will, of course, continue to oversee and scrutinise the robust policing that takes place at West Midlands Police and ensure the people of our region are kept safe.”
Dr Sue Ibbotson, Public Health England’s Director for the West Midlands said: “Violence is a public health issue. It causes physical and mental ill health, has its roots in adversity, and limits the chances of our children and young people. Violence is not inevitable.
“Violence is preventable if we work determinedly together as public sector agencies with communities to understand the problem and what causes it, and to put into practice what works to enable individuals and communities to thrive, and to stop violence before it starts.
Sarah Boycott, Assistant Chief Constable at West Midlands Police said: “The police too often see the effects of violence on our communities. Violent crime continues to be a priority for us – it is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
“While policing has a key role in reducing violence, we cannot do it alone.
“The Violence Reduction Unit will provide the whole region with a greater focus on prevention and additional funding to work together to do even more to stop the harm that is happening.”
Cllr Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This new Violence Reduction Unit is bringing public sector partners together to understand the causes of serious violence in the West Midlands, which is vital as it is an issue none of us can tackle successfully on our own.
“We will be looking at the root causes of serious violence, working together to find ways of protecting children, young people and communities across Birmingham and the wider region, to make this a safer place for people to live and work.
“The importance of getting young people involved is vital – such as the Mentors in Violence Prevention scheme being rolled out in some of our schools, which will encourage children to be brave in challenging and reporting incidence of bullying, harassment or violent behaviour.”
Phil Johns, Deputy Chief Executive for NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said:
“The NHS has a really important role to play in reducing violence; it’s much more than ambulances on blue lights and A&E, which is unfortunately what happens so often in the aftermath of a violent incident.
“The impact of violence on the local NHS is so profound, we have to take urgent and collective action. In Birmingham and Solihull, we also commission the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) service, which gives our GPs the option to refer vulnerable people to appropriate services, to ensure they get the right help and support, and try to prevent violence from happening in the first instance.”