Scottish Violence Reduction Unit

COVID-19 Impact on Violence Reduction: By Niven Rennie

The arrival of COVID-19 has had an impact on all of our lives. Routines have been disrupted and, for some, employment and financial concerns have been added. We also recognise that for a fair proportion of our society the continued struggle to place food on the table and keep ourselves warm has been made all the more difficult. There is also the impact on the more vulnerable, the elderly, homeless, those struggling with addiction or their mental health.

We know that for many the reality of domestic abuse is heightened during this period and the opportunity to seek help limited. We are publishing a separate blog regarding this issue but we have highlighted methods of obtaining help on social media and on our website. We also recognise that for many of our children the school day provides a much needed release from the harsh realities of their home circumstances where neglect and abuse can be significant.

All of these issues are of considerable concern even before we consider the effect of the virus itself – those isolating at home, our essential workers across the NHS and other sectors, the many who have been hospitalised and also those who have sadly lost their lives from this terrible illness.

Despite the disruption that we are experiencing, the work of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) continues. Some of our police officers have been recalled to Police Scotland to assist with the demand placed upon the police service by abstraction through illness or self-isolation. Other members of our staff are assisting third sector organisations to deliver food and other essentials to those in need. The navigators programme, operated by ‘Medics Against Violence’, has developed a method of supporting clients out with our hospitals and online support groups have been initiated for many of our other activities.

Like many other organisations, we are adapting to our current situation by developing new ways of working – liaising with other agencies through video conference, email and telephone, enhancing established relationships and forging new ones.

Whilst COVID-19 has been an interruption to our normal pattern of service delivery, we are utilising this time to the full, reviewing our planning and evaluation processes – evaluating existing projects and developing new ones.

As ever, our desire is to be innovative – to develop new ways of tackling a disease with which we have long been struggling, violence. Drawing on 15 years of experience of what works and what doesn’t, we plan to refine our plans and consider where we can deploy fresh strategies to best effect.

We are proud of our history and what has been achieved thus far. Much of that success can be attributed to the drive and foresight of John Carnochan, Karyn McCluskey and many other people that have worked within and alongside the unit over that time. At no point did they stop and look at what they had achieved with a sense of satisfaction of a job well done. They were always looking to take the next step, seek the next project, develop new ideas and bring about further improvements for the people of Scotland for whom violence, and the threat of violence, is a daily reality. That sense of desire for constant improvement remains alive in the SVRU today.

We recognise that, after years of reduction, violent crime recorded in Scotland has remained at a relatively constant level for the last few years. We acknowledge that many of our communities have not seen the scale of reduction that has been experienced elsewhere. Added to this, we also understand that there remains an under reporting of certain types of violence.

Try as we might though, we are unable to separate violence from some of our other more prominent social ailments. Violence, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and mental ill health caused by trauma are very often underpinned by one common factor – that factor is poverty.

We believe that in order to make further significant reductions in the number of violent incidents occurring in Scotland year on year we cannot tackle the issue in isolation.

When we return to our normal working lives, the SVRU will embark on a new project. We will do so with a number of partners, many of them in the third sector, and the project will be aimed at combatting all of the issues that are syndemic to that problem rather than tackling each in isolation.

The planning for this project is being undertaken at present.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay well.

Niven Rennie

Director, SVRU

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.