Over the following 15 years, the surgeon brought together the police, medical staff and local authorities to pool information on weapons, times and the city’s violent hotspots. The move allowed officers to better focus their energies, with streets pedestrianised and plastic glasses introduced. By 2007, violent incidents had fallen by around 40%, with savings of £7m to the taxpayer that year alone, and Cardiff rank as safer than similar-sized cities.
“The cost savings are not just for the NHS but for the criminal justice system as well – probation, the courts, prisons, all the rest of it,” says Shepherd, who is professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the school of dentistry at Cardiff University and director of the university’s violence and society research group. “The other aspect of this in terms of the economy is that clearly people want to work in a city that is safe. There is an economic impact in developing a safe city and a safe region.”
The “Cardiff model” is now employed to pinpoint hotspots of violence across the UK as well as in Amsterdam, the Western Cape in South Africa, and Milwaukee in the US. Shepherd, now an adviser to the Cabinet Office, has become a vocal campaigner for such collaborative research methods to be used across government and for different public services to work together , with all the attendant savings for the public purse.
“It seemed the logical thing to do but you don’t know until you test it whether it is going to work or not,” he says. “Around 2005, I was surprised to read a report that compared about 55 cities in Great Britain which had a population of more than 100,000 and Cardiff was down there … [with] Eastbourne and Cambridge and others which were leafy, gentle, nonviolent places. That was the first clue that this was working.”