Children as young as eight will learn about knife crime as part of Croydon’s new Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

At the end of last year, the council approved plans to introduce the new unit which will address violence as other public health problems.

In 2005, a VRU was introduced by Strathclyde Police in Scotland because there had been 137 murders in one year, 41 of them in Glasgow city alone. 

Following that, the number of murder cases in Scotland fell by 39% in the space of a decade.

At an Scrutiny and Overview Committee meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Joy Prince asked council leader Cllr Tony Newman: “You say we are addressing the subject of youth crime and community safety by adopting the Glasgow approach, the public health approach to it.

“But that is a bit vague isn’t it? You could call the Glasgow model a bit nebulous. What would that approach be in Croydon to suit Croydon?”

Cllr Newman said the approach was chosen for Croydon as there is already a number of voluntary and third sector organisations working on knife crime.

“One of the reasons that Croydon is getting better results than other boroughs on this is that a lot of ground-up work is going on in this area,” said Cllr Newman. 

“As a council, this is about making sure that we’re in the world of education – how we are getting in and having conversations with pupils as young as eight and nine.

“You cannot arrest your way out of these problems, you can’t stop and search your way out of these problems. By the time you’re having those conversations you’re essentially talking about failure .

“There is a long way to go but it is about the council having a much greater role.”

But Cllr Prince wanted to know how long it would be until there was a ‘turn around’ in violence thanks to the new unit.

Cllr Newman said it would take years for the unit to see changes but it would be a success if the unit was being disbanded in 20 years.

He added: “But it doesn’t mean that there won’t be some short-term success. Why I’m nervous to talk more about it is I’m aware that out there tonight we are only ever one incident away from another young person, another family being devastated by a loss.

“This is about a cultural change. One thing that struck me about Glasgow was that there is a police officer embedded in every school up there.

“The police were seen as, their words not mine, more of an arm of the social services.

“They are not seen as the enemy by young people, they are seen as part of the solution.”