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Drugs, vulnerability and opportunity: why Crest has begun a new violence research programme

Project lead: Sarah Kincaid, Head of Strategy and Insight

Saturday 30 March 2019

Crest is embarking on an ambitious two year programme of work around the causes of violence - investigating the underlying drivers of serious violence and to test the potential for implementation of more problem-oriented, preventative approaches.

This is a matter of national concern - and rightly so. Despite overall crime having fallen in the last two decades, some of the most serious types of violent crime have been increasing steadily since 2014.

Homicides, gun and knife crime account for just 1% of total police recorded crime, but are among the most harmful to society. Weapons are also used in a quarter of robberies, a higher volume serious offence.

These crimes clearly have a life-changing impact on victims. However, the ripples created by violent crime on siblings, neighbours, community, work and school colleagues are now better understood - the loss and bereavement experienced can inflict trauma if left unresolved, casting long shadows into the future. The impact on children is of particular concern, especially those with existing vulnerabilities such as experience of domestic abuse or criminality in the home.

But with such devastating symptoms, the causes of the increase in serious violence are not well understood. The public debate has been characterised by somewhat simplistic and stale arguments about causes and solutions: more police officers?; more stop and search?; more youth provision?, fewer school exclusions?; greater police powers?, longer prison sentences? an end to austerity?

There is a compelling need to get the problem analysis right.

Crest’s project is examining the competing claims and counterclaims, setting out what the evidence actually tells us about perpetrators, hotspots and trends. We are taking a data-driven approach, looking at national, regional and local data to create a more contextual picture of what is currently happening. Our principal focus is on the drivers of serious violence, and follows the themes from the Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy.

We already know there is international evidence of changes in the drugs market driving violent crime. And that despite the media focus on big cities, the highest increases of serious violent crime are largely seen in less urban areas. This a national problem. We also know that, worryingly, both the victims and perpetrators of violent crime are getting younger and that the distinction between them is increasingly blurred with 72% of homicide suspects in London previously themselves having been victims of crime.

We think there is a relationship between vulnerability and violence, but how clear are the relationships between rates of school exclusions, children in care and under child protection and violence? And why are criminals currently more adept at spotting (and harnessing) vulnerability than our public services who are there to address it?

Finally, from our own work across the justice sector we know that declining criminal justice effectiveness is making it harder to get a grip of the problem. Overall charge/ summons rate reached a new low last year and it is taking longer to bring offenders to justice.

Unpicking such a complex picture is not straightforward. We are already working in partnership with a number of police forces and PCCs but are keen to develop a stronger understanding of local drivers in local areas and opportunities for change. If you’re interested in your area getting involved, please get in touch with Sarah Kincaid.


The UK's only consultancy dedicated to crime and justice.

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