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Tackling violence and improving lives – what the Serious Violence Duty means for you

As regular readers of this column will know, I’m proud to say that Devon and Cornwall remains one of the safest areas in the UK to live

Tackling violence and improving lives – what the Serious Violence Duty means for you

On the flip side though, it’s also true that levels of reported violence are on the up (mirroring national trends) and now exceed levels seen before the Covid pandemic. 

I know communities have a clear expectation of what their local policing teams should be doing but I fully support Chief Constable Will Kerr’s decision to put more visible police patrols into persistent problem areas to help tackle antisocial behaviour and violence. And I’ve said before that it’s through proportionate increases to the policing tax precept that I’ve been able to boost force strength to a record headcount of 3,610 officers.

Modern policing must be agile and targeted in response, scaling up efforts where it’s most needed, in order to protect our communities from harm and ensure budgets are put to best use.

In the largely urban areas of Torbay and Plymouth for instance, violent crime is almost double what’s recorded in the more rural, local authorities of Devon and Cornwall - with the Isles of Scilly enjoying the lowest rates in the region. But I want all residents to live in safe, resilient communities, free of violent crime. And now that the inquest into the deaths of those killed in Keyham has concluded, I’ve also been clear that while mistakes were made here, a national review of firearms licensing is needed, to safeguard all communities for the future. What happened in Plymouth must never be allowed to happen again. 

Violence, in all its forms, can blight our communities and damage lives – that’s why tackling it is one of the four priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. It’s also why Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has a peninsula-wide Serious Violence Prevention Programme which aims to address the root causes of violence in the region and future-proof it for the next generation. 

This pioneering £4m programme is overseen jointly by me and the Chief Constable and supported by a wide coalition of partners across the region. All are dedicated to early intervention and community improvement. So far, our commissioned projects have provided life-changing support to over 1,400 vulnerable young people and helped around 140 parents. 

Our violence prevention programme is based upon the best available evidence about what works. Crucially, it takes a ‘public health’ style approach to tackling violence, treating it as consequence of multiple factors, such as adverse childhood experiences and harmful domestic or community influences. For instance, young offenders are more likely to have grown up in social care settings, been excluded from school and to have witnessed domestic abuse as a child. The odds of experiencing a life free from violence are stacked against them, but this doesn’t mean going “soft on crime” – rather, it means building safer communities for the future and that’s something we’re all invested in.

The good news is that we know supporting young people affected by violence reduces the chances of them going on to either commit crime or become victims of crime later in life – sadly, these factors are inextricably linked, hence the programme’s slogan, ‘Breaking the Cycle’. 

Taking a multi-agency approach to the problem has seen Community Safety Partnerships in our local authorities deliver ground-breaking new schemes such as domestic abuse recovery, ‘lived experience’ mentorship, teen education webinars and new help for children affected by parental imprisonment. In tandem, specialist police-led initiatives now include partnering schools to identify pupils affected by domestic abuse, an enhanced service scheme that monitors vulnerable 18-25s to prevent re-offending and development of a best-practice homicide prevention strategy.

Helpfully, there’s now a legal basis for tackling violence across the region, via a new Serious Violence ‘duty’ issued by the Home Office: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 puts a legal obligation on specified agencies (namely local authorities, health and criminal justice bodies) to work together in order to reduce serious violence in their respective areas. Over the coming months, I’ll be calling upon specified delivery partners to step up and work with us in order to meet our obligations under the new duty.

As a mark of my commitment, I’ve included the new duty in my Police and Crime Plan.

And we’re not alone in committing to tackle violent crime for the long term. My fellow Police and Crime Commissioners across the UK will all play a lead role in delivering the duty and in supporting partners with their preparations. The legislation came into force a month ago and in simple terms it’ll see the peninsula build upon the strong foundations it’s already laid in being one of the first UK regions to spearhead a specialist violence prevention programme.

In fact, our early investment in this vital sphere has positioned Devon & Cornwall as a blueprint for best practice and a national case study for delivery of the legal duty. Whilst we know the job’s far from done, my team have recently been able to help other regions who are just launching their bids to break the cycle of violence and keep their communities safe from harm. 

It’s a national policy framework that truly aims to deliver regional benefits.

You can learn more about our violence prevention programme and the work it’s doing across the peninsula, by visiting our new website that’s launched this week: