Scotland Violence Reduction Unit

Graham Goulden

Graham Goulden was a Scottish Police Officer for 30 years.  A secondment to the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit in 2009 changed his outlook, for the better.  He was a key member of the VRU for over 8 years developing a range of educational programmes with a focus on building healthy relationships.  His area of expertise is around bystander engagement and building safe, support learning environments.  He continues to support the VRU through his company Cultivating Minds UK.

We asked Graham to share his thoughts on violence reduction with the Youth Violence Commission.



I was a Scottish Police Officer for 30 years.  It was a profession I loved, took pride in and through which I aimed to make a lasting difference in the communities of Scotland.

On 1st June, 1987, I was posted to work in a part of Edinburgh known as Leith.  If you are familiar with Irvin Welsh’s book ‘Trainspotting’ or indeed have ever watched Danny Boyle’s film adaption of the book, you can begin to appreciate how the pages of the book and the scenes in the film became my daily reality.

The ever-present signs of heroin addiction were everywhere; addicts walking quickly up and down streets heading to their dealer for the next fix, the emergences of Mr Bigs who had been able to use their power and the period for their own advantage.  The 1980s introduced me to the willingness of some people to mercilessly exploit others for their own selfish gain.

Violence, was a tool in these Trainspotting days, and I was thrust right in the middle of it.  The violence was often quick, brutal, very visible and between people who had grown up and lived together.  Victims and perpetrators were often friends and family members.

Victims sometimes became perpetrators, sometimes they simply ended up on the mortuary slab before they could return the favour.

If I was to be honest the first 20 or so years of my service presented me with more questions than answers.  Was I really making a difference?  Was I fulfilling the hopes of supporting communities?  Maybe for the short term but not for the long term.

In 2009, I was provided with an opportunity, that totally changed how I looked at the issues that had started to frustrate me.  This new lens would eventually lead to me being able to ask questions like “Why” and “What”.  Why do people do what they do? And what contributes to a person’s behaviour?

In the summer of that year I joined the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).  With a backdrop of serious levels of violence across Scotland the VRU radically changed how Scotland both looked at and addressed violence.  Rather than simply employing the age old Criminal Justice approach to violence the VRU publicly communicated the need to look at violence through the lens of public health.

The VRU were instrumental in applying this principle to addressing levels of violence in Scotland. Furthermore, the approach extended to how we address social norms around the issue.  Just like dealing with disease, the VRU focused on both dealing with the violence as well its causes and the inevitable spread.

The focus on the transmission was something that fascinated me, it still does.  I had never looked at violence like this.  I dealt with the aftermath; I dealt with the stabbings, the rapes, the assaults.  That was the only way surely?

The idea that violence can spread, presents an important question for us all to consider.  Can violence be prevented long before the stab, the kick, the punch or the rape?

Violence is totally preventable and as the VRU says, it’s not inevitable.  Violence does not have to happen.

I am convinced that our focus needs to be wide, varied and with a focus on building healthy and hopeful relationships.  Giving hope to the hopeless is key.  I feel that as a society we judge far too quickly.  We look at those with addictions and those who don’t work with disdain.  We never stop to think about the early years trauma that is often a key factor in the lives of those the police come into contact with.  We don’t have to excuse behaviour, just understand it.

Domestic abuse is an issue for us all.  It’s 2018 and we still have many women, and some men, living in terror.  We have young children in these relationships who are not simply witnessing the abuse they are victims of it.

We will never have peace on our streets until we have peace in our homes.  Domestic abuse is a police priority for these reasons and no other.

When it comes to violence we need to ask why is that the majority of victims of violence are male?  Let’s be bolder and ask why is most violence committed by men?  I believe violence is a men’s issue.  We need to own it and deal with it, not through violence but through setting a tone of masculinity that our boys can aspire to.

As a former Detective I interviewed countless witnesses to violence.  Many of them would often say “I knew something was going to happen”.  This now informs me that we have the real potential to intervene in abuse long before it becomes an issue for the police.  We need to bring the bystanders into the conversation.  We need to reassure them when they see challenging situations and give them the skills and options to support a friend who is being abused, indeed even challenge a friend who is doing something that may get them hurt or in trouble.

We live in a world of reluctant heroes, let’s help them.

How we engage young people is vital.  The song “Waiting on the World to change” by John Mayer comes to mind.  The line “One day a generation is gonna rule a population”.  It’s too easy to label young people as the problem when it comes to violence.

Young people don’t grow up in a vacuum, they grow up in a world which lacks positive role models, where mass media communicates toxic messages about masculinity and our leaders often continue this notion of toughness as being key.  Be that consistent positive person in the lives of young people.  As the great American educationalist Rita Pierson says, “Every child needs a champion”.  Be that champion.

My policing career flew past in the blink of an eye.  There is still much work to be done.  Violence prevention is not for people with egos.  It’s for people who can work with others to fight this wicked disease.

Are you up for the challenge? I’m in.



This blog was written by Graham Goulden. Follow Graham Goulden on Twitter.


This post was written by Vicky Foxcroft

February 22, 2018 11:39 am Leave your thoughts

Leave a Reply