Scottish Violence Reduction Unit

Action – here and now. A view from Inspector James Gray

Inspector James Gray is the lead for the work of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit in the east of Scotland covering Edinburgh, the Lothians and Borders, Forth Valley and Fife. With an almost 30-year policing career, he discusses the importance of prevention work while challenging everyone to think about what it is we do to bring about lasting change with, and for, the communities where we work.

Inspector James Gray

We have all been there, right? Meeting a new person or group? You know it’s coming; that question about what you do. You have got your meeting intro off-pat, your elevator pitch ready.

A couple of years ago, working with a young man who was joining one of the SVRU programmes, I took the opportunity to create a one-to-one situation to try and get to know him. I asked him why he was interested in joining and what he wanted from it.

He was brief: “I want away from my family. I need a break. I want a chance.”

He then asked me: “What do you do Jim?”

I went for it. I think it is important that the people that we work with know that I am a cop, to change preconceptions and break down barriers.

I replied: “I am a cop, an Inspector. I work for the SVRU. I have been in the job for 27 years, worked in the busiest and toughest areas but I think everyone deserves a chance, as many chances as it takes in fact. I am part of the team that runs the programme. We really hope you get something from this.”

“Awright,” he said to me. But his face said it all – I hadn’t answered his question, I had only created several more.

I thought for a second then said: “Did I answer your question?”

“Naw, but you sound important,” he laughed.

I had another attempt but his facial expression didn’t change much and he was getting bored. “Jim, I just want to know what you do?”

It shouldn’t be this difficult, I thought. I told him I would speak to him later and give myself a chance to think.

Later that night I sat the group down and asked if they knew what I did. Most were able to remember I was an old cop. I was lucky to be supported by great lived-experience mentors and colleagues from another agency. I felt reasonably safe so I gave it another go. 

“I am working with the people you see here to plan, make and be part of the activities that you will all take part in over the next few weeks. I am here with you, I see you and I hear you. I will die trying to make sure you get as much of what you each want from this experience. I will repeat and ensure the rules we have all agreed are kept to. I am here if you are struggling. I need you to be kind to me if I get it wrong or when I am struggling. Other than that I offer and can do very little. This is your chance to do.” 

Bit of nodding and murmuring.  “’Sake Jim, why didn’t you just say that before”.

Much angst for me over that day. But why? It is a simple question. A lot of reflection for me in the coming days and months about the actual ‘what’. It is great to have been useful in places in the past and to have achieved a rank or station. It is right to list your strengths and describe your vision or ambition. A long term strategy and performance frameworks are necessary otherwise you don’t know where you are going or if you will ever get there.

But, when someone in these men’s position have heard all the titles and buzz words before, been promised the world and let down repeatedly and don’t see where they fit in to your strategy then all they are satisfied with is what your actions are – then and there.

It is great to tell people about what inspires and drives you; to promote and celebrate the great outcomes you have delivered. However, if there is no concurrent action there will be nothing to talk about in the future.

It doesn’t matter who I am working with or what I am witness to. Whether that is peer mentors, trainees, navigators, youth workers, police officers, people in need of support, professionals, mums and dads, I see what they do – there and then.

Initially, until relationships and trust are established and accepted that is what most people need –


I have been working with partners in the east of Scotland to deliver on the Scottish Government and Police Scotland commitment to reducing violence since taking up the post at the SVRU in 2019. It allows me a huge amount of freedom to work with the most amazing people across sectors and disciplines all of whom recognise the benefit of partnership, relationship and kinship in meeting the needs of people who are largely unseen and unheard.

We work to reduce violence and harm; with individuals, groups, organisations, statutory bodies and anyone with energy and a passion for improving the outcomes of people, families and communities. I have been awestruck and humbled by the work currently being done to this endeavour across the country. The SVRU has projects all over the country. A small team of committed and dedicated people trying to change the world one action at a time. If any of this makes sense to you then contact us and find out how you can help. Forward together.

Niven Rennie


Telephone: 01786 896785          Email:

Niven has more than 30 years of operational policing experience in the United Kingdom. He joined Strathclyde Police in 1985 serving throughout the west of Scotland in a variety of ranks and positions before progressing to the rank of Chief Superintendent. Niven previously held the role of President of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents where he represented the interests of the operational leaders of policing in Scotland.

On leaving Police Scotland in 2016 Niven took up the position of Chief Executive Officer of South Ayrshire Escape from Homelessness (SeAscape).

Niven was appointed director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit in July 2018.