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How Glasgow Shed Its Reputation As 'The Murder Capital Of Western Europe'


And now a turnaround story. Most of Scotland is peaceful and relatively free of violence. For years, the big exception was Glasgow.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: This is one of the most violent cities in Europe.

SHAPIRO: That BBC documentary was from 2004. Two years later, another reporter filmed a gang fight on a Glasgow soccer field.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: As the fight subsided, it seemed like a good idea at the time to try to find out what this was all about. They were very drunk.

SHAPIRO: The teenagers end up chasing the reporter and his camera crew back to their car.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: And we're going to have to leave now. We're really going to have to leave now.

SHAPIRO: Scotland's biggest city was infamously known as the murder capital of Western Europe. And Susan McVie says Glasgow deserved that title. She's a professor of criminology at the University of Edinburgh.

SUSAN MCVIE: Glasgow had a homicide rate of about 63 per million people, which was more than twice as high as in London.

SHAPIRO: That was in 2005 - and now?

MCVIE: And in the last year, it was estimated to be around 20 per million. So it's reduced threefold in the last decade alone.

SHAPIRO: I wanted to find out how the city changed that culture of violence so dramatically so I went to Glasgow, where I met John Carnochan.

JOHN CARNOCHAN: I was a police officer for about 39 years. I retired as a detective chief superintendent, and in 2004, along with a colleague, I founded the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.

SHAPIRO: The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit was one of the key forces in reducing the murder rate here. Carnochan takes me to a bunch of soccer fields surrounded by housing developments.

CARNOCHAN: This is where we used to have gang fights. This is one of the places - all the time - known as the Pitches.

SHAPIRO: He says at one point, the average killer was 17 years old. These are the very same soccer fields where that BBC reporter filmed the gang fight a decade ago.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: And they're all carrying sticks or bottles or, you know, bits of metal.

SHAPIRO: Carnochan says it would happen every Friday night like clockwork.

CARNOCHAN: That's why we called it recreational violence. That's what they did. That's what their fathers did. That's what their uncles did. That's what their brothers did.

SHAPIRO: Changing the violence meant changing the culture. And Carnochan says that required a lot more than police work. The cops cracked down on knife possession, but the schools also stopped expelling kids all the time. Former prisoners started mentoring kids in trouble.

CARNOCHAN: So when people say, oh, this was to do with policing. No, it wasn't. Policing was a big part of it. A policeman's job is to stabilize the patient. After that, the clever stuff gets done, and that's about kids in school. That's about jobs. That's about redemption. That's about giving people another chance.

SHAPIRO: As we stand here at the edge of the football field where these gang fights took place, it seems to me that we're surrounded by the various aspects of the solutions you're talking about. Here's a building that says Jobs and Business Glasgow.


SHAPIRO: There's a building that says Glasgow Kelvin College, giving the education component. Right next to it, The Bridge is a community center that has a cafe, a library, dance classes, a theater. And then behind it is the police station.


SHAPIRO: This approach to violence prevention was actually developed in the United States. Obviously there are big differences between the U.S. and Scotland. Scotland does not have many guns. Racial tensions are not much of an issue in Glasgow. But the general principles seem to work on both sides of the Atlantic. Violent crime rates have fallen in many cities. It is particularly dramatic here in Glasgow. We walk over to the police station and try the front door. It's locked. Nobody's at the front desk.

CARNOCHAN: Locked, see? How cool is that? Now, I know you're disappointed. I'm really pleased.

SHAPIRO: What does this mean that the door is locked?

CARNOCHAN: It means that it's not manned 24 hours a day. It's not there. That's the difference that's been made here.

SHAPIRO: Carnochan says it's great when police can put themselves out of a job. A couple in their 50s walks by. Irene and John McCluskey have lived in this neighborhood for decades.

JOHN MCCLUSKEY: Used to be really bad, but now it's...

IRENE MCCLUSKEY: Really bad, but it's all calmed down now.

SHAPIRO: You say you used to be afraid to walk outside your door.

I. MCCLUSKEY: Well, you did. But now it's all quieting down now.

SHAPIRO: Police say they still sometimes get complaints about this area, but now it's from people complaining that their neighbors aren't scooping up after their dogs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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