Prof Susan McVie comments on how Scotland reduced knife deaths among young people

Press/Media: Expert Comment


Susan McVie, professor of quantitative criminology at the University of Edinburgh, points out that the police, working alone, have a limited capacity to prevent knife crime.

Fewer than 2% of stop and searches in Scotland result in the recovery of a knife, she says. “It’s hard to profile kids who carry weapons because a lot of those who carry a weapon aren’t the ones you would expect. They might be kids from middle-class backgrounds who feel frightened, isolated and threatened in social situations.”

Once violence was seen as a public health issue, the conversation changed: “We started to talk to offenders and ex-offenders and to challenge behaviours and the culture of violence,” says McVie.

McVie thinks there are three things that have made tackling knife crime in Scotland easier than tackling it in London, where this year 18 children and teenagers have been killed with knives.


The first is that the VRU managed to efficiently tackle gang culture, targeting leaders and isolating them from followers. Second, she says, Scotland has a different culture of violence: incidents have tended to be over something more immediate and spur of the moment, often involving an encounter that escalated from an insult or argument, rather than the bloody end of a protracted dispute or connected to criminal activity.

Finally there is the issue of trust with the police. “In London institutional racism creates a barrier,” argues McVie. “If people see something going wrong they are less likely to tell the police because they don’t trust them. In Scotland, where racial bias has been less of an issue, it’s been very different. There is more trust between police and minority communities.”

Nobody in Scotland would claim they have cracked the issue of knife crime. McVie points out that a reduction in crime generally in Scotland has not been even, and people remain vulnerable in those communities hardest hit. “Our analysis shows that the [general] crime drop has mainly been as a result of reducing crime amongst those least likely to be victims in the first place, ie one-off victims of property crime,” she says.

“However, we found no significant reduction in the risk of being a victim amongst those who have the greatest probability of being victims of crime, who are from the most deprived communities. Indeed, we found that those who are the most at-risk people in society have actually seen an increased risk of being victims of violence.”

Period3 Dec 2017

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleProf Susan McVie comments on how Scotland reduced knife deaths among young people
    PersonsSusan McVie


  • Knife crime
  • homicide
  • violence
  • Victimisation