Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cutting violence with social science

Irvin Waller is a leading expert in violence prevention. He is professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. He developed the Safer Cities program with the United Nations Habitat and was a founder of the UN-affiliated International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. Irvin agreed to offer the following blog to SafeGrowth about a new study on preventing violence. 

A new study confirms sustainable ways for violence prevention to succeed against one of the most intransigent challenges for urban violence. Prairie cities in Canada have failed for many decades to prevent violence affecting urban Aboriginal peoples. Politicians and judges seemed to only be able to react with prison time and punishment.

This comprehensive study bravely starts with the innovative goal of stopping violence before it leads to victimization and criminal justice costs. It examined both the social science knowledge on what reduces crime affecting urban Aboriginal people as well as a growing body of knowledge about how ¨risk focused¨ prevention gets implemented and sustained.


The study tested this knowledge with stakeholders in one of the cities. Stakeholders were optimistic about the potential for risk focused strategies to reduce crime and prevent victimization in this difficult inner city population. However, the stakeholders and the study identified missing pieces.

For instance, success requires cities to support a leadership centre to sustain partnerships between schools, housing, policing and others. Funding must go to smart policing and effective prevention – not one or the other.

A plethora of government agencies provide living proof that violence is preventable, not inevitable. The U.S. Department of Justice and the World Health Organization have scoured the world to provide even more. Public Safety Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have selected best practices and made them publicly accessible. 

But despite their success, these practices have yet to be shared and implemented from coast to coast. As a result, cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg still ended 2011 with record numbers of homicide victims.

The chief of detectives for Glasgow, one of the U.K.’s most violent cities, got fed up investigating homicides. Looking for another option, he took knowledge from around the world and applied it locally, targeting gang violence. He brought in public-health experts and oversaw the installation of programs to limit alcohol abuse, stop youth from carrying weapons, promote mentoring, improve bad parenting, and more. 

Five years later, these efforts have reduced rates of violent offending by 50 per cent among those engaging with the initiative.

For more information, visit