‘If there is an overarching agreement on anything in criminology, I am yet to find it.’
This comment marks the beginning of Superintendent Stan Gilmour’s discussion on crime prevention. Supt. Gilmour is the current Director of Thames Valley Police Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). In this role, he has gained extensive experience surrounding trauma-informed policing and prevention diversion strategies that seek to address the root causes of crime. In addition, he is himself an alumnus of the MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice (2005/06).
Supt. Gilmour argues that policing discourse mainly concerns itself with crime and crime prevention. However, 85% of police work is connected to welfare and lesser-known administrative work. This reflection brings Supt. Gilmour to the overarching question of the day: How do we effectively prevent crime? First off, we need to look at the concept of crime. It can be difficult to tackle criminal behaviour from a criminal justice baseline that is so heavily influenced by ‘old white men,’ the Supt. Gilmour explains. In other words, criminal law is defined by the male gaze.
‘You are fighting an uphill battle against political and public sentiment which is, generally speaking, based on punishment,’ Supt. Gilmour says to underline how political rhetoric is based on punitive populism rather than evidence-based policing. There can be a myriad of reasons why people fail to behave within the confinements of this legal framework. It might be connected to mental health challenges or part of their socio-political realities.
To this point, there are two broad areas where the police can have a meaningful effect. One is through changes in the social system, and the other is at the time of a crime. If we recognise the social reasons that are connected to crime, Supt. Gilmour argues, we can try to change our interaction with perpetrators and their rehabilitation. The Thames Valley VRU takes a noticeably different approach to other police forces in the United Kingdom.
According to Supt. Gilmour, the Thames Valley VRU follows an evidence-based approach instead of populism and thereby encourages multi-agency intervention and prevention and the reduction of inequalities and disparities within the system. In short, it does not follow an agenda that says ‘punishment works’ or ‘mass incarceration works to prevent crime’. Instead, Supt. Gilmour notes that the VRU has always taken a forward-looking view on what works to reduce crime and deter offenders. It has thus been keen to engage with evidence-based crime prevention programs. He also notes that there is more engagement in the Thames Valley VRU than in other police forces, which may help to implement these programs.
The Thames Valley VRU is also working on ‘County Lines’ issues (i.e., the ‘commuting of gang members from major cities to small rural-urban areas to enhance their profit from drug distribution’ (Robinson, McLean and Densley 2018). Supt. Gilmour sees it as a method of exploiting children to deal drugs. As these children are being trafficked around the country, away from home, family, and friends, they are more vulnerable.
The Thames Valley VRU identifies where children are being exploited by criminals and aims to prevent it by building resilience within the community, protect child rights, and limit the drug market. This approach does not dichotomise the role of ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ as the media generally does. In Supt. Gilmour’s view, all children who commit crimes are vulnerable. The police should thus consider how to better protect all children, including children working in County Lines.
Moreover, Supt. Gilmour explains that the VRU is gathering data about whether the public health approach to policing has increased trust in the police within the community, especially within marginalised groups that are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. The general discourse of mistrusting police often revolves around confusion and mistrust in the whole criminal justice system. The VRU identifies marginalised communities and engages with them to understand the ways they are disadvantaged from a structural perspective.
Supt. Gilmour further highlights the importance of the relationship between academia and police. He runs two special interest groups on behalf of the Global Law Enforcement & Public Health Association (GLEPHA), bringing law enforcement, public health, and academia together as cross-disciplinary engagement is particularly beneficial with regard to research on preventing social harms.
Being asked how to break the cycle of inter-generational offending possibly, Supt. Gilmour explains that identifying when a parent goes to prison is essential, but there is no way of currently doing so. Therefore, his unit is collaborating with the Ministry of Justice to get notifications when a parent goes to prison and then try to understand the context around the family, which would also help to understand gaps in service provision. Supt. Gilmour then highlights police discretion and talks about how important it is to find the right balance of intervention, especially with regard to drug legislation. He stresses that law enforcement must always be proportionate and fair.
In terms of how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced policing, Supt. Gilmour argues that fewer calls give the police more time to investigate and understand the specificities of cases and those involved. He also stresses that issues of inequalities within certain communities need to be addressed urgently.
We would like to thank Supt. Gilmour for participating in our interview, offering a fascinating insight into the workings of the police.
Authors: Ludivine Delaloye, Katina Dorer & Maya Lahav - Current MSc Students.