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Want to reduce violence? Follow the science

Over the summer of 2020, something very odd happened in Southend-on-Sea.

In parts of the city, violent crime plummeted not by 10% or 20%, not even by 40% or 50%. It fell by a whopping 74%. There were fewer serious assaults, robberies and drug trafficking offences.

What caused this dramatic fall? It couldn’t be the pandemic – because the collapse in crime only happened in very specific parts of town. Presumably it was the result of an extensive police sting operation in those areas – hours of undercover surveillance, tracking known criminals, disrupting the local drugs market? Nope. Ok perhaps Essex Police invested in new cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence policing software – the sort of thing that predicted the crime before it happened? Nope. Ok how about they partnered with social media companies and tracked the criminals chatting online, charging them for planning criminal activity? No, no, and no.

The real answer is much simpler. Here’s what they did, prepare yourself. They noticed where most violent crimes normally took place. Every day, they drove to these areas. They parked their police cars in highly visible locations and went on patrol around the area. A 15-minute patrol. And then they went away again. Yes, that’s it.

Surely it can’t be this simple to cut crime. If it was, surely everyone would do it. This must have been a random freak result. It isn’t. This simple technique – of putting high visible police officers in the places where crime happens – has successfully reduced crime almost every time it is used. From Birmingham to Bedfordshire and Peterborough to London. We’ve published evidence of 62 studies of the approach. The result? It works. It can be this simple to cut crime.

This raises the obvious question: if this method, normally known as ‘hot spots policing’, can reduce crime and help keep our children and communities safe from violence, why are we not using it everywhere?

Here’s the problem. When it comes to reducing crime, we don’t follow the science. It’s time to change this. Fast. Thanks to research, trials and evaluations from around the world, we know lots about what works. Want to keep vulnerable children safe from becoming involved in violence? Try social skills training in school and therapy outside of it. Are gangs out of control? Try focused deterrence – an approached that has been shown to work in Chicago, Malmo and Glasgow (and that’s just the places that rhyme).

As Southend-on-Sea shows us, reducing crime is not always about spending more money, it’s about spending it smarter. Violence isn’t inevitable. If we follow the science, we can keep every child safe from violence.

More information about what works to prevent youth violence can be found in the Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit.

Related content

  • Hot spots policing

    A police strategy that targets resources and activities to places where crime is most concentrated.
    Cost
    ?
    Evidence quality
    1 2 3 4 5
    Estimated impact
    on violent crime
    MODERATE

    Other Outcomes

    • moderate reduction in Drug offences
      1 2 3 4 5
  • Focused deterrence

    A strategy that combines communicating the consequences of violence with support for developing positive routes away from it.
    Cost
    1 2 3
    Evidence quality
    1 2 3 4 5
    Estimated impact
    on violent crime
    HIGH
  • Social skills training

    Aims to develop children’s ability to regulate their behaviour and communicate effectively.
    Cost
    1 2 3
    Evidence quality
    1 2 3 4 5
    Estimated impact
    on violent crime
    HIGH

    Other Outcomes

    • HIGH increase in Self-regulation
      1 2 3 4 5
© 2022 The Youth Endowment Fund Charitable Trust. Registered Charity Number: 1185413.
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