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Colombia experience could help reduce UK knife crime and street violence

A leading public health expert says the UK should learn lessons from systematic violence reduction work in Cali, Colombia to tackle rising rates of knife crime on British streets. The work in Colombia resulted in significant reductions in homicides between 1995 and 2018.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Professor John Ashton describes how, faced with a horrendous toll of over 1,000 drug related homicides each year, the Mayor of Cali, public health professor Rodrigo Guerrero and his colleague Dr Alberto Concha-Eastman, adopted a classical public health model to tackle the problem.

The model is based on an understanding and detailed mapping of time, place and person with appropriate interventions to match. Interventions in Cali included restriction of alcohol sales in the affected neighbourhoods and access to weapons, police surveillance and enforcement using 24 hour courts, tackling organised crime, together with a holistic approach to poverty reduction, increased educational and employment opportunity and the mobilisation of communities, including especially the mothers of young men, fearful that their son would be next in the mortuary.

In 1995 the homicide rate in Cali per 100,000 inhabitants was 100. This reduced to 47.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.

Professor Ashton says: “The current popular refrain for a public health response to violence is being linked to recent efforts in Glasgow which seem to be having some impact. However, the roots of this approach can be traced to systematic work in Cali over the past 30 years.

“The UK is now at a stage which requires stronger community organisation and participation linked to whole systems action, if knife crime and street violence is to be reduced. We have much to learn from our colleagues in Cali.”

Notes to editors

Tackling violence as a public health issue (DOI: 10.1177/0141076819841503), by John Ashton, will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05 hrs (UK time) on Friday 12 April 2019.

The link for the full-text version of the paper when published will be:

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:

Rosalind Dewar
Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine
DL: +44 (0) 1580 764713
M: +44 (0) 7785 182732

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) is a leading voice in the UK and internationally for medicine and healthcare. Published continuously since 1809, JRSM features scholarly comment and clinical research. JRSM is editorially independent from the Royal Society of Medicine, and its editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.

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