Police Scotland has solved every single homicide case except one amid a remarkable fall in killings – Tom Wood

‘Violence reduction’ approach has had a dramatic effect on the number of murders and other killings in Scotland and those responsible are almost always caught

Hidden in the avalanche of bad news over the last few weeks was a glimmer of light. A small headline announced Scotland’s homicide rate had fallen to 48 cases in 2022-23. The year before it was 52. This is no flash in the pan.

Little consolation, of course, for the families of victims but, when you consider where we have come from, the reduction in violent deaths is remarkable. As recently as the 1990s, there were close to 150 homicides a year, more than 100 in Strathclyde alone. In 1970s Edinburgh, we ran a special ‘stabbing team’ of detectives at the weekends because there were so many.

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These welcome reductions in public violence are no statistical anomaly or figure fiddling, the trend has been slow and steady over the last 20 years. There are demographic factors. Put simply, the fewer young men in society, the less crime of all types. But given such a dramatic, sustained reduction, there’s more to it.

Evidence-led measures to reduce violence

I believe much credit must go to the new thinking brought about by the ‘violence reduction’ approach, developed by the old Strathclyde Police and their partners as a public health response to horrendous levels of violence. Full credit to the teams responsible for this winning formula. It shows what can be done by the sustained application of evidence-led practices. If only our drug policy wonks had followed suit!

There was another encouraging aspect to our latest homicide figures: every one was solved. This is an outstanding performance, for while most homicides are carried out by someone close, there’s always an outlier that tests investigators to their limits.

The solution rate for homicides over the last ten years is outstanding. Since the formation of Police Scotland a decade ago, only one murder remains unsolved, a remarkable testimony to the system of regional major investigation teams that ensures a well-trained team of police and scientists gets on the ground quickly.

Homicides in Scotland have fallen dramatically and Police Scotland almost always catch the people responsible (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Homicides in Scotland have fallen dramatically and Police Scotland almost always catch the people responsible (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Homicides in Scotland have fallen dramatically and Police Scotland almost always catch the people responsible (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Lack of boots on the ground

But if Police Scotland’s response to serious crime has never been better, in other areas budgetary cuts are having an effect. The recent fireworks night disturbances in East Edinburgh are symptomatic. A group of some 50 youths set off huge pyrotechnics in a built-up area before attacking the police who responded to the calls of alarm. So serious was the incident that a large public order deployment was necessary. Let’s be clear, when you are forced to send in the riot squad, you have already lost the battle, for you have failed the first commandment of policing: to predict and prevent crime.

Bonfire night battles are not new and the areas that saw trouble are old favourites. Certainly, the availability of huge pyrotechnics was a problem, but the real issue was a lack of street intelligence that would have helped nip problems in the bud. That kind of ground-level information only comes from community policing and old-fashioned boots on the ground, now increasingly rare after ten years of budget cuts.

The falling homicide rates are good news but we should not be complacent. All things are cyclical, including crime trends. We could easily slide back to the dark days. The foundation of all policing is in the community, the threat to street policing bodes ill for the future.

Tom Wood is a writer and former police officer

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