Round the houses
John Carnochan did not join the police for a particularly noble reason.
It was 6 May 1974 and he was due to marry four months later. “When you joined you got a free house and that was the key motivating factor,” the former Detective Chief Superintendent laughs as he reflects on his decision to join Lanarkshire Constabulary, which a year later became part of the legacy Strathclyde Police force.
“It wasn’t about money and it wasn’t about a great sense of social conscience that I had, it wasn’t about that at all. It was just, ‘well, that seems a reasonable job, that’s pretty steady, I think I can do that’. And we got a lovely flat when we got married – it was gorgeous, a lovely sandstone flat in a nice area. So that’s why… Even if [that wasn’t the case], the advert at the time in the paper, it had this beautiful S-type Jaguar – and I’m a Jaguar guy – and it said learn how to control a skid, join the police, and I thought, ‘yes, I’ll join the police and learn how to control a skid’. I never did, but the flat was fine.”
Carnochan is a man of many stories, each one a parable that bit by bit, builds a picture of the journey both he and the profession have been on in the four decades since. Being a police officer is a blue-collar job, he says. “It’s a job about people and I think it’s understanding that that makes the difference.” He recalls, as an aide to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department), which he joined with just three years service, he and a detective sergeant were called out to a housebreaking.
“We got there in the afternoon because there had been a few at that time – colour tellies were just in vogue – and we went in and this wee old woman was there and the window was broken. It was blowing a bloody gale in her window but she’d kept it open so that we could come and examine it because the cops had said we’ll come and check that for fingerprints.”
Still lying on the floor was the brick that had been used. “She said, ‘I haven’t touched the brick, son’. Now you can’t get anything off a brick, right. The detective sergeant picked it up, put it in a bag, covered it up and went outside.” A baffled Carnochan followed his boss to the car, at which point he was handed the bag and told to throw it away. “I said [to him], ‘you know, you can’t get fingerprints off a brick, why did you take it?’ He says, ‘because she took the time to leave it there for us. What you going to say? That was silly, don’t do it’.”
Carnochan’s most marked awakening came a decade ago, though. Murder rates in Strathclyde were at unprecedented levels and Carnochan, then deputy head of the CID, was asked to write a homicide reduction strategy. “The Chief Constable at that time, Willie Rae, was under real pressure, I mean, there were headlines in the paper about him, ‘what are you doing about this, Willie Rae?’ There was one in the Times that said, ‘Get out your bunker, Willie’.”
As a relative newcomer to Strathclyde Police, having joined in 2002 as a principal analyst, a colleague of Carnochan’s, Karyn McCluskey, had been dumbstruck by the levels of violence. The two rapidly became aware that a different direction premised on partnership and prevention was required, one that was endorsed by Rae who gave the go-ahead for the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) to be launched. “The easy thing to do is say we’ll put more cops on the street and we’ll do this. The smart thing is saying, here’s the big decision, the big decision is about prevention and we need to be part of that.”
As a detective sergeant in the late 80s and early 90s who had worked in Easterhouse, Carnochan had witnessed first hand the chaos that had engulfed parts of the city. “All we did was violence, that’s all we did, just dealt with violence. That’s the place where I went to a woman’s house on a Saturday morning looking to arrest her 15-year-old son for an attempted murder the night before and she said to me, she knew me, ‘Mr Carnochan, he’s not in, come in and look’ and I said, ‘well, where is he, when was the last time you saw him?’ ‘He left here last night about half past five to go gang fighting and I haven’t seen him since’. Fifteen-year-old [and] that was a quote. What’s even worse is I said, ‘alright’. It seemed normal to me as well; ‘oh, he left to go gang fighting’, 15-year old, ‘OK, thanks’.”
CIRV – the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence – is what Carnochan points to as one of the key contributors to the paradigm shift that has since taken place. Based on Boston’s Operation Ceasefire, which helped reduce gang homicides in the 90s, CIRV was a police-led scheme set up in 2008 that achieved buy-in from a number of other agencies. It was, in effect, a carrot-and-stick model to encourage high-risk gang members to accept help accessing education, health services, careers advice, social services and diversionary projects. “The CIRV project is one of the things that I am most proud of and also one of the things that causes me the biggest frustration because I don’t understand why we’re still not doing it,” says Carnochan.
Violent offending halved amongst those who signed up. Yet, the most glaring indication of its success for Carnochan came after a phonecall 18 months into the project from a chief inspector. “He was an ex-detective inspector who worked for me and he said, ‘Boss, I just wanted to tell you, see the gangs stuff, it’s working a treat’. I said, ‘I know we’re getting good figures back’. He said, ‘never mind the figures, we got a complaint the other day about dog fouling’.
“There’s a measure. How do people feel about their community? Well, they feel that that is not acceptable, whereas before they thought gang fighting was acceptable because they couldn’t do anything about it. We demonstrated you could do something about it.
“We demonstrated with young men there is something else we can do here, we don’t need to lock you up, we will if we need to, but we don’t want to do that, we can find something else for you to do, c’mon let’s get on with it. They did and that made the difference. It has probably restored my faith in human nature and that, no matter how bad somebody is, if you give them the chance, they’ll do it.”
The model was evaluated independently by researchers at the University of St Andrews and had been earmarked for national rollout. After all, the VRU, within 15 months of being set up in 2005, did have its remit expanded nationwide. The suggestion, often encountered in other parts of the country, that the violent behaviour they sought to address is somehow a ‘weegie’ problem was a particular disappointment for Carnochan, not least because neither he nor fellow co-founder McCluskey are Glaswegian.
Even certain chief constables in legacy police forces “looked the other way”, preferring to view Glasgow as an exception. “Maybe if the gangs are fixed in the east end of Glasgow, which they are, you don’t need the CIRV again. But maybe there are gangs elsewhere that you could apply the same model to,” says Carnochan.
Despite his frustration, he acknowledges that policing tactics must change with the times. It is an argument that he considers equally applicable when it comes to stop and search, an approach that the legacy Strathclyde force, alongside creation of the gangs’ taskforce and CIRV, pushed as a means to crack down on the carrying of weapons and the misuse of alcohol. In the space of five years, serious crimes of violence dropped by almost half. “It’s important that we look at some of the groups that we police and how we police them,” he says.
“Stop search is a classic example of that where it is intelligence-led and we do need to take knives off the street and alcohol – that’s absolutely fine. But 500,000 people will mostly be white, they’ll mostly be young men, and they’ll mostly live in poor areas and some of them will have been searched four, five, six, seven or [up to] 12 times. That’s a challenge for us that we need to be careful with, because it’s like the east end of Glasgow, if we reduced gang fighting to where it is then maybe we should police it in a different way, maybe we should now be thinking about community policing. This is the time to build capacity, this is the time so that we’ll need less policing with a capital p, so it’s about the community policing that’s there. [It’s a] difficult thing to do, the balance needs to be right, but my personal view about stop search is we need to dial it back a little.”
If intelligence-led policing is the intention then more details around who is searched, when and why is required, adds Carnochan, who expresses reservations over widespread use of consensual stop searches. Police Scotland sought to address such concerns a few weeks after Carnochan spoke to Holyrood, as changes in practice were announced before the justice sub-committee on policing. “I’d rather have command and convince rather than command and control,” he says.
Carnochan, however, believes the new single force will get there in time. Policing plans developed at community ward level offer an ideal mechanism through which to do it. Partnership and community engagement work has tailed off slightly with the move to a national force, he suggests. “But I understand why. The first priority is let’s get Police Scotland being a police service first of all and then once we have done that stuff, once we’ve stabilised the patient, if you like, then we can start to do the clever stuff, which is about engagement, about assets, about community cops, about campus cops, about effective collaborations – that’s when you can really start to do it. There is some of it ongoing in most areas but it could be really at the forefront and I think we’ll get back to it.”
The VRU has been at the forefront of recent efforts. In Hawkhill, Alloa, for instance, it has been assisting in the development of an assets-based approach that looks to empower the local community to achieve better outcomes. “Right now we say to people, here are the services you can have, choose one, and we talk about hard to reach people. [It’s] hard to reach services, for goodness’ sake, it’s not hard to reach people. We should be saying to folk, ‘what are the issues you have? We’ll not solve them for you [but] we’ll help you solve them.’”
Scotland’s intractable relationship with alcohol remains one issue where a solution is still to be found. Carnochan is well-placed to see that given the levels of alcohol-related violence that the VRU has been faced with. “I’d like to think that in 20 years’ time we look back and our kids say to us, why the hell did you not do something about alcohol back then, because I think we’ll look on it the same way that we look on the Marlboro cowboy and the fags [a long running series of cigarette advertisements]. ‘What? Why the hell did you allow that?’ I think it’ll come to that at some point, I hope it does.”
Minimum unit pricing is a welcome development, but just a start, says Carnochan, who calls for advertising of alcohol to be banned. Police Scotland has endorsed calls by the VRU for offenders that repeatedly commit alcohol-related offences to be compelled to wear devices that monitor their alcohol intake, though ministers are yet to throw their support behind the move. “I don’t think we’ve got the same thirst for doing new things, about [saying] let’s try this,” says Carnochan.
“The alcohol bracelets, we brought them over here two years ago but we just weren’t ready to do it. We started to do research with it so that we could get a grounding on it [and the] police service in Northampton grabbed it. We’ve had the police and crime commissioner from Northampton visiting us here twice [and] we’ve visited him down there.
“So other people recognise the things that are happening in Scotland and I don’t just mean the VRU, but the things that are happening around Scotland that are really smart, good, social policy. Maybe it’s just my frustration at my age, thinking I’m running out of time [and that] you need to do this quicker than you’ve been doing it, maybe it’s that. But I’d like to see it given a bit of pace.”
Likewise, there is still a “huge way to go” in terms of tackling violence against women. Addressing men’s behaviour has been a focus of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme, started three years ago by the VRU, which looks to promote a climate where bystanders can safely challenge aggressive and inappropriate behaviour by their peers that can give rise to violence. “Like when we started [the VRU] and said to Willie Rae you can’t fix murders unless you fix violence, well you can’t fix violence against women and rape unless you fix things like advertising, misogyny, the sexualisation of children, because that’s the stuff there that supports this stuff up here – it’s connected.” Carnochan’s gut feeling tells him that a recent increase in reports of domestic violence is a good thing in that it suggests victims are more confident coming forward. But in the absence of a prevalence study in Scotland, the scale of domestic violence is an unknown quantity, he says.
Carnochan, who left the police in 2013 with 38 years’ police service, last month retired for a second time with his work in the University of St Andrews’ School of Medicine around public health coming to an end. As one of the most vocal advocates of early years and parenting support, he hails the Early Years Collaborative and Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as a step in the right direction. However, he reckons there is a need to be more radical. “I would give two years maternity leave to share between parents right now because I think that would make a huge difference.”
It’s an idea that is likely to trigger conversation on a new website Carnochan intends to launch this August called Responding Differently, a forum for new ideas on how to approach a range of public challenges, including violence, early years, education, employment, community assets and policing.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t be paying attention to events in September that we’re all going to personally have a part to play in. That’s hugely important for our future and I can understand why that’s where the focus is right now, I can fully understand that. But after it’s done, I’m giving them [politicians] two weeks to settle down, whatever happens, then after that I’m going to be battering the door and saying, ‘what are you doing about this?’”