22 October 1992 - 24 October 1992

The Phenomenon of Street Violence in Modern Industrial Societies, and Methods of Policing

Chair: The Rt Hon Kenneth Baker MP

Our conference met against a background that included not only the massive rioting, centred on Los Angeles, earlier in the year in the United States, but also serious disturbances at Rostock in Germany. All the countries represented brought vivid and substantial experience of the phenomenon of group street violence. We sought (not always without difficulty) to concentrate upon this rather than upon crime in general.

While we observed that eighteenth-century Britain (or indeed fourteenth-century Oxford) had known violence often overshadowing, in proportionate terms, more recent history, the trend-line for decades past had been rising disturbingly. Beyond that, however, simple generalisations would be unhelpful - the phenomenon varied very widely in origin and in nature, and with time and place. Some street violence was “instrumental” - looting-related, as it might be, or for political purposes - and some essentially expressive (as for display or letting off steam) or emotional; but this division itself needed many subsets. And the central practical question - “What should be done about it all?” - similarly split (at risk of yet more simplification) into internalised and external approaches. The former concerned ways of so forming individuals that they were less disposed towards bad behaviour; the latter concerned ways of constraining bad behaviour, or of modifying immediate circumstances increasing the risk of it.

On the first of these tacks, the key theme emerging was the decay, among increasing minorities in our societies, of both the codes (morality and “civility”) and the social networks - especially but not only the family - which in the past had served to shape and underpin a self-discipline reining back the violence of which there are instinctive strands in most of us. The effects were at their sharpest among, though they were not wholly confined to, concentrations of young males whose lives lacked respected supervision and who were not inhibited by the moderating responsibilities of job or marriage. The correlation with unemployment was far from complete (as the European record of football-crowd violence showed), but it was usually high; so was that with relative poverty. Whatever the specific social causes, the key attitudes were a sense of under-valuation, stake-lessness and exclusion from majority society (with exclusion from its material goods and enjoyment sometimes an especial factor) and a lack of true connectedness to other people. In this last regard, many of the gravest manifestations - and we heard some appalling statistics and particular cases - seemed to betoken above all a remarkable inability to recognise other human beings as of equal reality with oneself. And the others so unrecognised were by no means necessarily those of other generations, classes or races; the victims were as often as not themselves the young and the poor, or from the same ethnic group as the offenders.

Our search for remedies noted that though the family framework should be used and reinforced wherever possible, it could less and less be relied upon; in the typical areas of severest street violence the “standard” two-married-parent family was by now the exception, and even where grandparents were around they might well not command the energy and authority to cope with difficult young. Perhaps for lack of time, we said little about the place of the churches, to which in former times one might have looked for a major contribution to “internalised” discipline. The burden had to fall increasingly on the local community in a broader sense. We observed that architecture and town planning could do a lot, and often had not, to improve the chances that communities would be of a kind in which “connectedness” and good role-model effects were strong. (We did not resolve a certain tension between planning to reinforce community and planning for dispersal, to break up awkward concentrations.) Schools could play a highly constructive part, not just in curriculum content - less geometry, more social skills? but this was challenged - but also in institutional style and culture, and also in making their costly infrastructure available to the community for longer hours of use. This point chimed closely with one of the themes of the Ditchley conference on education a fortnight back.

Root causes, like those which lead to alienation, and proximate causes of outbreaks shade into one another. In the intermediate category we acknowledged the importance of materiel apt to generate crime - drugs (differing widely, of course, in nature and effects), alcohol, even cash in automatic-teller machines. Guns had especial significance in the US scene; US participants patiently explained to the usual European near-incomprehension the political and practical difficulties of changing a situation in which 2-300 million handguns and around three million automatic weapons were in ready circulation. This huge issue aside, discussion endorsed the value of working away at better control of all these material elements.

We talked about the role and effect of the media, especially television. While we did not buy the simple connections popularly made between the media and violence, we were minded accepting that there were some significant interactions - not just from the direct presentation of violence, both fictional and real, but perhaps even from the effect which a massive continual intake of TV programmes (as of video games?) might have on young people’s sense of reality, expectation of ready entertainment (simple boredom, we were aware, was a frequent factor in disturbances) and awareness of materialist luxury. But regulation did not attract us, and we saw no clear or workable way through to defined codes for the media.

We spent some time on the problem of “risk-prone” children - particular children for whom behavioural pattern and background combined to yield, from ages as early as 5-10, relatively high-probability expectation of violence to come. We saw however no way in which justice and equity could tolerate especially restrictive regimes for individuals in advance; we were clear also that specially-segregated corrective schools were at least as likely to intensify problems as to solve them. That said, we acknowledged (with the help of one spectacularly-illustrative British case history) that there might be cases where physical restraint of some kind was essential to protect both society and the young individual - and where current criminal-justice structures for the young seemed to have serious loopholes. We discussed such structures relatively little, however, save to note that standard adversarial proceedings often risked deepening alienation; but we heard of an imaginative experiment in New Zealand - albeit too recently introduced for confident overall assessment yet - whereby young offenders took part along with respected elders in their lives, the police, and victims themselves (with supporters) in case conferences to determine outcomes. This aside, we noted wryly that effective and continuing remedial follow-up was highly desirable but could only too easily be seen by the offender as part of the punishment.

We naturally spoke much about the role of the police. We were encouraged by what we heard about general movement, despite the mounting pressures of the scale and nastiness of violence, towards more locally-responsive, preventively-oriented and community-based policing, rather than concentration upon after-the-event crackdown (usually harder and much more costly than wise pre-emption) and retribution in the courts. There was an increasingly-recognised need to focus upon pragmatic problem-solving approaches in specific situations – common sense things like keeping open a park gate where closure was forcing over-concentration of young males at sensitive times. This called for enhanced flexibility and imagination (and devolution of authority to act) in police forces, and thorough dialogue with other local interests. It was important also that these other interests within the community, and the community itself as a whole, should fully accept their own responsibilities in the cooperative effort.

In the round, we heard of many instruments for tackling the problems; in the aggregate, or better still in positive inter-action, they plainly offered substantial scope for alleviating the problem of street violence. But that problem would remain severe in many areas and terrifying in some, like south-side Chicago. The counter-strategy would require resolve, cooperation, participation and patience over a long haul - longer, certainly, then customary political horizons easily encompassed.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Rt Hon Kenneth Baker MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) Mole Valley


Ms Heather Strang
Executive Research Officer, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra (affiliated with the UN).

Professor Andrew Ashworth
School of Law, King’s College, University of London

Professor Martin Davies
Executive Director, School of Social Work, University of East Anglia, Norwich

Professor Nicholas Deakin
Department of Social Policy & Social Work, School of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham

Professor Eric Dunning
Research Director, Centre for Research into Sport and Society and Co-Director, Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research; Professor of Sociology, University of Leicester

Professor A H Halsey
Emeritus Professor of Social and Administrative Studies, University of Oxford; Emeritus Professorial Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford

Miss Mary Hartnoll CBE
Director of Social Work, Grampian Regional Council, Aberdeen

Mr Simon Heffer
Deputy Editor, The Spectator

Mr John May
Wessex Area Manager, HM Prison Service

Mr Charles Pollard QPM
Chief Constable, Thames Valley Police

Dr John Rae
Director, The Portman Group (a drinks industry initiative against alcohol misuse 

Mr Peter Silver
Research Associate, Design Improvement Controlled Experiment (DICE) Project, Geography Department, King’s College, University of London

Mr John Smith QPM
Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Metropolitan Police Service, New Scotland Yard

Miss Vivien Stem CBE
Director, National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO); Director, South Thames Training and Enterprise Council; member, Advisory Council, Cambridge Institute of Criminology

Dr Jacqueline Tombs
Central Research Unit, The Scottish Office, Edinburgh

Mrs Mary Tuck CBE
Chairman, Inter-agency Working Party on Domestic Violence; National Chairman of Victim Support

Mr Ben Whitaker
Director, Gulbenkian Foundation UK

The Rt Hon the Lord Windlesham CVO PC
Principal, Brasenose College, Oxford

M Jean-Marie Delarue
Maître des requêtes au Conseil d’Etat, Paris; secretary general, government’s interministerial committee on urban affairs

Dr Emmanuel Dufour
Deputy Secretary General, European Forum on Urban Safety

Frau Anne Lersch
Director for Youth, the Senate, Berlin

Dr Claudius Ohder
Secretary, Berlin Senate Commission on Violence

Professor Leonard Berkowitz
Vilas Research Professor in Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor Edwin J Delattre
Boston University: Dean, School of Education, Olin Resident Scholar in Applied Ethics, and Professor of Education

Mr Lee Dogoloff
President, Employee Health Programs Inc. (one of the largest providers of Drug Free Workplace services in the United States); member, President’s Drug Advisory Council; private clinical practitioner, specialising in treatment of drug and alcohol problems

Ms Linda A Fairstein
Chief, Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit and Deputy Chief, Trial Division, New York County District Attorney’s Office

The Rev Francis Kane
Director, Evangelization and Christian Life, Cabinet of Cardinal Bernardin, Chicag

Professor Robert B Millman
Saul P Steinberg Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health, Cornell University Medical College, The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center

Professor Mark H Moore
Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and Management, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Dr Peter Reuter
Co-Director, Drug Policy Research Center, RAND, Washington DC and Senior Economist, Washington Office, the RAND Corporation

Professor Lawrence W Sherman
Professor of Criminology, University of Maryland at College Park; President, Crime Control Institute, Washington and Crime Control Research Corporation