“Violence is preventable, not inevitable”. Those are the words chiselled into the walls of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). Set up in 2005, it has been credited with a dramatic fall in the region. From 137 homicides in 2004/05, to just 62 in 2016/17, the region has bucked a trend which has seen the rest of the UK and in particular, London, become significantly more dangerous.

The unit sees gang-related knife crime as a public health issue and not just a policing issue.

Direct communication

From inviting teenagers to a courthouse to symbolising the effects of knife crime with chalk outlines of bodies and knives, police have taken a candid approach to communicating in person with potential offenders.

Medics have also taken this approach. In 2008, six surgeons who had witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of knife crime formed the Medics Against Violence (MAV) organisation. The group has gone into schools warning of the dangers of knife crime and the necessity of reporting incidents.

Alternative opportunities

In 2009, the VRU launched the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Designed to offer young people an alternative to gangs through education and youth groups, it was inspired by the success of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire in 1995, which saw a reduction in violent crime of over 50%.

The VRU has been at the forefront of offering current gang-members an alternative path too through producing job opportunities suitable for this unique demographic.


Staying ahead of trends which can lead to isolation and exclusion from school, such as sexting, has led to the VRU seeing these issues being kept under control.

Deuchar, R. (2014). Policing youth violence: Transatlantic connections. Scottish Institute for Policing Research, 12.

Cooke, D. J., Wozniak, E., & Johnstone, L. (2008). Casting light on prison violence in Scotland: Evaluating the impact of situational risk factors. Criminal justice and behavior, 35(8), 1065-1078.