Work to tackle the root cause of knife crime and serious violence in Avon and Somerset is underway following the Police and Crime Commissioner’s inaugural Strategic Violence Reduction Unit meeting.
Sue Mountstevens brought together local partners including five local authorities, Avon and Somerset Police, 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 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.
The five local authorities are tasked with working with education, health and police partners, to identifying 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 the VRU in understanding the nature of serious violence across the area as well as providing evidence on how to approach the issue.
Sue 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.”
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.”
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.”
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 Headteachers to forge a strong and effective partner with the VRU.”