In 2018, after growing concern about levels of street crime, knife attacks and murders in parts of England and Wales, the Government published a new strategy, declaring that the burden of tackling serious violence should not fall on law enforcement alone. Eighteen violence reduction units (VRUs) were set up to ensure the police worked together at a local level with the health service, probation and other organisations to prevent and tackle serious violence.
Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly do not have a VRU but were given funding in 2020 to develop their own programme to prevent serious violence. The money - £1 million per year - is jointly provided by the Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and the Chief Constable. Crest Advisory has been supporting the work.
In addition, key public bodies in every police force area are also now required to produce and implement a strategy to work together to deal with serious violence as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which became law in April 2022. It affects police forces, local authorities, criminal justice agencies and health organisations.
In this blog, the Serious Violence Prevention team in Devon and Cornwall reflect on the work they’ve conducted in the last two years and outline the main lessons for agencies in other areas as they prepare to meet the requirements of the Serious Violence Duty.
Establish a top-down mandate and rationale for the new approach
“The key to success with Devon and Cornwall’s Serious Violence Prevention Partnership is the collective will and ambition” [Temporary Chief Constable, Jim Colwell]
The first step of a successful programme is support from the organisations involved – at strategic and operational levels. Devon and Cornwall’s Serious Violence Prevention Programme (SVPP) is a joint venture between the Chief Constable of the local police force and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and has benefited from a commitment by both organisations, as well as executive sponsorship and clear structures of governance and accountability. The alliance was strengthened by the creation of a senior leadership post, Programme Director, which is currently held in Devon and Cornwall by Rebecca Inskip. Rebecca has worked across both the police and the OPCC, helping the SVPP to deliver a strategy that links in with our local statutory and commissioned partners.
Establish a dedicated budget and resourcing
Sustainable funding is vital to the continuing development of the programme. In Devon and Cornwall, the initial £1 million per year budget, over a four-year period, was funded by an increase in the portion of the Council Tax allocated for policing, known as the precept. That has been crucial in ensuring that the programme can be developed independently and free from grant conditions. Funding is being made available for local agencies to meet their responsibilities as part of the Serious Violence Duty, but it will take them only so far, particularly in areas that have not previously benefited from VRU resources. A longer-term commitment to funding will be critical.
Build an evidence base
“It’s important to take a long-term public-health view to serious violence prevention” [Rebecca Inskip, SVPP Director]
All Home Office-funded VRUs needed to establish a common definition of serious violence and a Strategic Needs Assessment (SNA) to highlight the previous, current and future needs of a population. In Devon and Cornwall, a definition of serious violence was agreed that included domestic abuse and sexual violence. The team then contacted local organisations to carry out a SNA. More than 130 individuals contributed. It’s the same with the Serious Violence Duty. Engagement with practitioners, the voluntary and community sectors, young people and individuals with ‘lived experience’ will help answer important questions and supply vital information on what is happening ‘on the ground’, such as the quality of services, opportunities to prevent serious violence and how agencies and organisations respond.
One way of improving the process would be to turn a SNA into a ‘living document’, with automated data collection from local agencies. This could inform decision-making in real time and ensure that a SNA doesn’t become outdated after a programme comes to an end. For example, data on hospital admissions for knife crime could be updated and shared regularly between agencies and organisations to help plan and conduct operational work.
Innovation through partnerships
“Give partners a stake in the process – don’t rely on the SNA alone” [James Stott, Crest Advisory]
After we completed the SNA, Devon and Cornwall SVPP presented our findings to the local agencies and organisations who had helped us with the research. Although the presentations were a success, we realised that those who attended the sessions should have more opportunities in the future to contribute to the development of a strategy.
The team also conducted a review of interventions which are designed to tackle violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and youth violence. The review examined which approaches have been shown to be effective so that future decisions can be based on evidence. The work has already supported the rollout of personalised budgets for a group of young people in Devon and Cornwall - a ‘public health’ approach which has proved to be effective in the past. Under the scheme, the Devon and Cornwall Police Pathfinder programme, specialist staff, known as ‘navigators’, work with people aged under 25 to access funding for services tailored to their individual needs.
Working with Crest, the Social Care Institute for Excellence carried out an analysis of 23 statutory reviews into homicides and other serious incidents in Devon and Cornwall to identify key characteristics and lessons to be learned. The work highlighted gaps in the way organisations responded to homicide and led to the development of the Police Homicide Prevention Strategy.
Move towards strategic commissioning
“You can’t delegate leadership… We had to roll our sleeves up and get involved ourselves” [Alison Hernandez, Police & Crime Commissioner]
Once our evidence base was developed, the SVPP governance board used it to set out a strategy and began allocating funds from the £1 million per year budget. Senior leaders had a crucial role to play in the early days of the project but they did not have an operational or practical understanding of the work that was already taking place locally - that improved in the second year of the programme. A welcome addition to governance arrangements would have been an operational and strategic group.
Some funding was provided when the SVPP programme started - but before the SNA had been completed. It’s understandable that there is an urge to get moving, spending and delivering, but it’s better to avoid ‘helicopter commissioning’. In this case, it would have meant awaiting the findings of the SNA alongside the results of a consultation. A ‘Theory of Change’ – a comprehensive illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular setting – was required to underpin the programme, not only to ensure that the strategy was properly focused but also to lay the groundwork for evaluation.
Be careful with external commissioning. Using third-sector organisations to carry out work on violence prevention without sufficient time, resources and buy-in from other agencies can result in wasted investment and missed opportunities. To address this, we launched a local partnership fund to ensure money was provided in line with the aims of the SVPP. Under this approach, the Devon and Cornwall team worked closely with community safety partnerships - statutory bodies which bring local agencies together to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. We think that voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises that are helping to deliver the services in this area should be given support and brought into the SVPP.
Final reflections two years on
To date, the SVPP has 35 live projects, with seven in development; the programme has supported just under 1,400 young people, with 139 wider family interventions. The team is currently conducting an assessment to understand whether it is meeting the SVPP Theory of Change and identify any gaps in the work; if there are, the strategy will be refreshed to reflect that. The programme is just two years old and despite all the progress made so far, there is still more to do.
The process of adopting a ‘public health’ approach to serious violence requires far reaching changes in a number of the organisations involved so that preventative work becomes ‘business as usual’. There will be a myriad of approaches across the country but we hope that the lessons we have learned in Devon and Cornwall can help support other areas, especially as they get ready to comply with the terms of the Serious Violence Duty.
WEBINAR: Devon & Cornwall's response to serious violence (YouTube link)
SLIDES: The serious violence journey in Devon and Cornwall (PDF)