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Gangs Summit Takes Place at City Hall

Monday 2nd June 2014

A summit on gangs has been taking place at City Hall today, with experts from the United States there to tell the Met and London Mayor Boris Johnson how they should be dealing with the problem.

Boris at City Hall

"There are two interesting parts to this," LBC's political editor Theo Usherwood who was there explained.

"Firstly - we need to be better at offering teenagers on the fringes of gang crime a way out.

"Chicago has trialled a scheme where those involved in low level gang activity are hauled in to a meeting with the police and social services and offered a way out.

"It's been very successful and there is talk it could be replicated here in London."

Professor David Kennedy, from John Jay College in New York, has been described as 'a gangs guru' and is the brains behind the idea.

He is giving officers from Operation Trident - the Met's gang crime unit - a six hour masterclass tomorrow.

"What drives the violence is that these guys will tell you, 'I have enemies trying to kill me and nobody is protecting me from them' and they're right, so you have to go to those people and get them to stand down," Professor Kennedy told Theo.

"They are, many of them, soaked in trauma, they have experienced enormous amounts of violence and they can't sleep, they're hyper vigilant, they're afraid to go outside. They have enormous volumes of very serious every day needs, they don't have any place to sleep, they don't have anything to eat, they don't have an address where they can get mail, their phone won't work next week, they can't get insurance on their car.

"All this very, very pragmatic immediate stuff and really more than anything else they need new friends because it's their current set of friends that are dragging them into the craziness."

It is estimated that there are 3,495 identified gang members in London and around 224 known criminal gangs. Seventy per cent of gang members are aged 17-23 and 15 is the average age of a gang member on first conviction.

Among the advice for the Metropolitan Police is to get better at monitoring gang activity on social media.

Many of the incidents during the London riots were organised through social media and things like Blackberry messenger. In New York, they are much better at targeting this trend.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin G O'Connor has a whole unit in the NYPD that specialises in investigating gang crime through the internet and social media.

"They post videos," Assistant Commissioner O'Connor told Theo. "We're going to be showing some videos that show, some pictures that show of gang affiliations, who they're fighting with - they'll actually advertise who they're fighting with.

"They have their own language, we're able to understand the language after watching this periodically over and over again, the investigators get very good at understanding what the words are. An example is, they'll say 'do you have food for Stacy?' You and I would interpret that, the girl Stacy is hungry, to them it's bullets for the gun. Food is bullets, Stacy is the gun.

"So you pick up the terminology so that when you're talking to these kids you can also have a better dialogue as an officer and you don't have to sound like them but you can at least understand when you have a conversation with them and then it helps develop a rapport with the kids themselves and the gang members themselves that you at least respect them enough to understand where they are coming from."

City Hall is spending 3 million a year on providing funding to London's boroughs to help 25 projects tackle the problem through prevention and early interventions as well as support for those already involved in gangs.

Speaking as the summit got underway Mayor of London Boris Johnson said that there needs to be greater focus on preventing people becoming members of gangs in the first place.

"London has turned a corner with gang crime and serious youth violence down in the capital but I recognise we have more to do," Boris said. "This is about taking a nose to tail approach - not just looking at an endgame, with young people already involved in criminality and the criminal justice system. It is working to ensure they are not drawn into gang culture in the first place and make it easier to leave when they are already involved. We also want to show our young people that there is a choice. Their energy, ambition and ideas are key to the opportunities our city has to offer and we can work with and support them to develop their full potential. The stark alternative comes from being drawn into a life of crime and violence."

Other speakers at today's gangs summit included Stephen Greenhalgh Deputy Mayor for Policing; Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe; John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York; Karyn McCluskey, Scottish Violence Reduction Unit; Dr Juan Medina-Aziza, University of Manchester; and Detective Chief Superintendent Rebekah Sutcliffe, Greater Manchester Police.

Mr Greenhalgh said: 'Gang violence destroys lives and erodes confidence. Like all major cities, London has a gangs problem, but the numbers show we do not have a gangs crisis. But neither are we complacent. The vital work of Trident has been critical - and that resource will remain - but we must make sure that future enforcement efforts respond to changes in how gangs and offending evolves. Trident's success in London is creating the space for others to focus on prevention upstream and we want to learn from other cities where, like London, there is general agreement that enforcement on its own is not enough.'