In 2008, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) set up a project to tackle gang violence in Glasgow’s east end called the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). It's a multi-agency, community-based project involving Strathclyde Police, Glasgow Social Work Services, Glasgow Education Services and Glasgow Housing Association, as well as a host of community and voluntary groups and third sector organisations.
The aim of the project is to secure a rapid and sustained reduction in violent behaviour amongst gang members across Glasgow. The programme has at its core a focused deterrence strategy, coupled with diversion and personal development. It is based on existing programmes introduced to tackle gun related gang violence in the USA, but adapted to a Scottish context.
Through tough enforcement the police convey a clear message targeted to all gangs to stop committing violence and that if they don’t, they will be targeted for enforcement action against all members of that gang. They are also told that if they wish to exit the gang lifestyle then CIRV will help provide them with constructive alternatives to help them move towards an employment based lifestyle.
CIRV works with a range of services and programmes to offer a constructive alternative to those who wanted to change the direction of their lives. Importantly, these services are delivered by credible voluntary and community-based services, who are experienced in dealing with gang-related offenders.
This story was printed in an HM Government cross-party report on ending youth and gang violence.
CIRV implemented a model from Boston called a 'call-in'. The first one took place in 2008 when 60 to 70 gang members were called into a session in the Glasgow sheriff’s court which was presided over by the sheriff as though the court was in session. The Chief Constable spoke first and gave a hard-edged enforcement message. Organisational charts of the gangs were shown on screens to demonstrate that the police knew who they are and who they associated with. Then members of the community spoke.
For example, an A&E consultant explained the difficulty of dealing with knife victims. A mother told how at the age of 13, her son was set upon by a gang and attacked with machetes. The injuries to his face were so severe he was unrecognisable. He had tried to protect his face with his hands and lost his fingers.
Another speaker was a man who had committed a murder at 18 and had been in prison for 11 years. He spoke about the dehumanising, harrowing aspects of prison. About spending his twenties in a cell, someone telling him when he can go to the toilet and when he can eat. He also spoke about how knowing that, someday, he would have to tell his children what he had done.
Lastly, those involved in the delivery of intervention and diversionary schemes spoke to illustrate the meaningful alternatives that are available. This element of choice is fundamental to the success of the project.
Many of these young men will have no control over where they live or what they do. Giving them a positive choice, for what may be the first time in their lives, is key to giving them control over how they behave. The best way to get a troubled youngster to change their behaviour is to give them a reason for doing so. If you know that behaving violently means you can’t get a job or lose your girlfriend, you are less likely to do it.
CIRV actively engaged with around 400 gang members during the initial two years of the project and preliminary findings are positive:
Recent statistics show that in some areas the knife crime culture prevails or is on the rise again. Therefore, more work is needed for everyone to come together and tackle this problem so that we create a better future for young people growing up in Scotland.
You are welcome to view the link, which connects to a 30 minute video from the BBC Panorama series on 'How Scotland Cut Knife Crime'.