Criminal Justice

Against Serious Violence Reduction Orders: discriminatory, harmful and counterproductive

Written by:
Dr Tim Head
Read time:
25 minutes

Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) are a new police stop and search power, being piloted by forces in England and Wales. Introduced under the controversial Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act (2022), SVROs are part of a broader expansion of police powers and the rolling back of safeguards and avenues for police accountability. The Home Office itself has admitted that many of the potential harmful consequences of SVROs will likely fall on people of colour, on Black people in particular.

In “Against SVROs”, we review the evidence around high-discretion police powers similar to SVROs, which overwhelmingly shows that they do not work to reduce serious violence. Contrary to the government's claim that SVROs will "break the cycle of offending”, we found that high-discretion police powers and behavioural orders push people, disproportionately people of colour, into the criminal justice system. These policing interventions are clearly evidenced to harm the mental and physical health of those targeted, while reproducing deep-seated racial discrimination in the use and abuse of police powers. 

In our comprehensive review of existing evidence, authored by Dr Tim Head, we found: 

  • No statistically significant link between existing police stop and search powers and violence prevention or reduction. Section 60 search powers prove particularly ineffective, with an overall arrest rate of 0.5% for offensive weapons between 2001 and 2021. 
  • No studies demonstrating a relationship between court or civil orders and a reduction in rates of ‘offending’ behaviour. 
  • To the contrary, the evidence points to a relationship between the use of court or civil orders and increasing levels of involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • A clear and significant link between similar police interventions and police stops, and negative mental and physical health outcomes such as higher rates of anxiety, self-harm, suicide attempts, diabetes and high blood pressure. These negative health impacts are disproportionately felt by Black communities.
  • A clear and significant link between high-discretion stop and search powers and deepening racial disparities in the use of police powers. The study identified no police stop and search power that does not lead to highly racially disparate outcomes. For example, under Section 60, Black people are 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

If this government and opposition politicians are serious about addressing the extremely concerning rise in serious violent crime, they need to stop handing police more powers and funding,  and instead  address the wider socioeconomic determinants of violence in our society. It’s time to listen to the evidence and learn from alternative community-led responses to harm, both with and beyond the state. 

We’re urging policymakers to: 

  • Immediately scrap the Serious Violence Reduction Orders pilot and repeal the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022; 
  • Repeal legislation on high-discretion policing powers, such as Section 60 of the Public Order Act 1994; 
  • Scrap the use of other pre-crime intervention civil orders such as Knife Crime Prevention Orders and Behavioural Prevention Orders; 
  • Fund grassroots community-led and community-trusted organisations that play a role in conflict mediation, violence interruption and prevention; and 
  • Fund community-led mental health support and legal advocacy for individuals harmed by police stop based interventions. 

We call on the government and opposition politicians to develop long-term, evidence-based strategies which address the wider socioeconomic determinants of violence and draw on expertise from existing alternative community-led responses.

In Against SVROs we outline a vision that moves beyond endless cycles of punitive state interventions, towards new institutions, organisations, and networks of mutual care and support, that enable working-class communities of colour to have meaningful control and self-determination in the production of security, safety and human flourishing.

Dr Shabna Begum, our Interim co-CEO said: 
“The evidence is clear - to tackle violence, we must deal with the social and material conditions that produce it. Approaches that rely on punishment and criminalisation are not only ineffective, but in fact exacerbate the root causes of crime and violence: entrenched poverty, a lack of access to quality housing, education and healthcare, and essential provisions such as food, welfare and childcare.
“While leaders across the political spectrum continue to escalate the ‘tough on crime’ arms race in the name of political point-scoring, our working-class racialised communities are being pushed further into harm’s way. It’s time for us as a society to move beyond endless cycles of punitive, counterproductive interventions, and towards new systems that support marginalised working-class communities to heal and thrive.”

Dr Tim Head, report author and fixed-term Lecturer at the University of Essex said:
“One of the most striking things about the government’s introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Order powers is that next to no evidence has been cited to support their rollout. This is not an accident. However you frame it, the vast majority of rigorous evidence on SVROs points towards a single conclusion: high-discretion police stop interventions like this do not ‘work’, even on their own terms. Instead, they produce harm, anxiety and misery among the communities they purport to ‘protect’.
“In the UK and abroad, social movements are increasingly challenging us to think more expansively about the ways in which we might prevent violence and harm in our societies. Our review highlights the importance of this work, reiterating again that we need to move beyond punitive interventions if we are sincere about creating safe and flourishing communities.”

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