Claudia Webbe says she fears police have not done enough to build trust, as Scotland Yard launches crackdown
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 February 2012 15.22 GMT
Boris Johnson and Bernard Hogan-Howe launch the gang crime command. Photograph: Tony Kyriacou/Rex Features
A Scotland Yard initiative that aims to double the number of officers tackling gang crime could become "a wholesale attack on young people", according to an adviser given the task of bringing together the police and community.
Claudia Webbe, who chairs the Metropolitan police's independent advisory group for Trident – which has worked with the police to boost community confidence in the Met and generate information about gun criminals – said she feared the force had not done enough to build the trust of young people.
The new Trident gang crime command will tackle gun crime and spearhead the fight against gangs. The measures are the Met's response to demands from the Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, for police to do more to tackle gang crime.
The initiative was launched with police raids on more than 100 addresses across the capital, involving around 1,300 police staff, with cameras in tow, in the hunt for alleged criminal gang members.
Police said 171 warrants had been executed and 231 arrests made. Half a kilogram of heroin and a "large amount" of cash were seized from an address in Southwark and a kilogram of heroin, crack cocaine and £10,000 cash were taken in Bexleyheath, with four arrests made there, police said.
The Met said there were an estimated 250 active criminal gangs in London, comprising about 4,800 suspects, mostly aged between 18 and 24. Of these gangs, 62 were considered "high harm".
The force said gangs – which ranged from organised criminal networks involved in class A drugs supply and firearms, to street-based gangs involved in violence and muggings – were responsible for approximately 22% of serious violence, 17% of robberies, 50% of shootings and 14% of rapes in London.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met commissioner, said: "We want to prevent young people getting involved in gang offending, so we and other agencies are offering ways out to support young people. However, those who refuse our offer of help will be pursued and brought to justice."
The initiative will cost £60m a year, at a time when the Met is facing large budget cuts, and the force said it was a long-term commitment. Trident officers were increasingly finding the shootings they were investigating were gang-linked, so it made sense for the unit to expand to tackle the issue, the Met said.
Officers also believe the Trident "brand" is feared among criminals. Thursday's initiative was the latest anti-gangs plan produced by the Met in recent years. The new anti-gangs strategy will require local councils and other services to help divert young people away from gangs. There is not yet a London-wide plan in place for such work, and privately police say some councils' plans are better than others.
Hogan-Howe said: "We're not concerned with peer groups or just friends who may hang around, and we have no intention of criminalising an entire generation. Our focus is on violence and criminal behaviour associated with gangs and gang members."
Community involvement will be key to the strategy's success, but some are sceptical. Webbe said a key to the success of Trident's earlier work had been police working with communities and listening to them, and she feared the Met had not done that work with young people.
"The danger now is moving the resources of Trident away from tackling organised and serious crime into a wholesale attack on young people. There is no evidence that any work has been undertaken by the [Met] to build trust and confidence with young people," she said.
"I am concerned about the headline-grabbing approach and the political gamble taken by the mayor and implemented by the commissioner."
The launch comes two months before a tightly contested mayoral election. Last month, the mayor assumed control for policing strategy in the capital. Johnson said: "I made it clear when appointing a new Met police commissioner that this was the top crime priority for our city, a view shared by Bernard Hogan-Howe."
Brian Paddick, the former police chief who is the Liberal Democrat candidate to be London's mayor, also criticised the plan, saying the move could be politically driven. After last summer's riots, David Cameron blamed gangs, a claim undermined when police forces released figures showing only a minority of those arrested for offences belonged to known gangs.Paddick said: "There appears to be a deliberate attempt by some politicians to blame gangs for an increase in violent crime, which is just not justified. There were the riots where gangs were blamed, which was not borne out by statistics. Now we're seeing disproportionate resources being focused on gangs."
Last month, the prime minister's adviser on gangs, the American former police chief Bill Bratton, said gangs in the UK were less of a problem than in the US. "The firearm problem in England is almost laughable in the sense of how small it is," Bratton said. "The gangs here, I would describe as basically wannabes. They're heavily influenced by American gangs – in dress, in language, in the stupid signs they use." Ends