This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Peace on the streets? How two gangs in Birmingham found common ground

A brutal dispute between street gangs blighted Birmingham for 20 years, making national headlines in 2003 when two teenage girls were shot dead. But an uneasy truce reigns now, brokered by a former cabinet minister and a film-maker, who tells the story in an extraordinary documentary, One Mile Away

Elizabeth Day
The Observer, Sunday 24 February 2013

Penny Woolcock, front centre, with members of One Mile Away, from left, Tobeijah Atkinson, Dylan Duffus, Matthias Thompson, Daniel Davidson, Ashley Woodcock, Joel Ecclestone and Simeon Moore. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

Ashley "Woody" Woodcock was 15 and hanging clothes on a washing line in his back garden when a bullet came whistling towards him. At first, he didn't understand what was happening but when he looked at his hand, he saw it was bleeding. The edge of his palm had been skimmed by the shot, a wound that would leave a burned-out blackened scar that is still visible now, 10 years later.

Matthias "Shabba" Thompson is 33. He was shot in the leg a few years back. He was in such a state of shock that he didn't even notice until he jumped in a car to escape and tried to press the accelerator. His leg wouldn't move. When he glanced down, he saw swollen flesh and a thin stream of blood trickling from two small holes.

Joel "YT" Ecclestone is 21, and says he has seen so many people get shot he's lost count. Once, he witnessed someone felled by a hail of fire from an AK47. Another time, he watched a man's hand "open like a flower" from a bullet wound.

Daniel Davidson is 25 and has violent dreams. Sometimes he dreams that he's doing the shooting. Sometimes he's being shot at. He has these dreams "all the time. It's just normal."

These young men are not living in a war zone. Nor are they growing up in a far-flung country, riven by poverty or civil unrest. They live inBirmingham, and are divided by little more than a postcode.

Until recently, these men had been involved in one of the most vicious gangland feuds in the UK, in the city with the highest concentration of gun crime in the country. They had been stabbed and shot at and had retaliated in kind. They existed on the streets, caught up in a criminal network of drugs and guns. They had seen their friends killed and their relatives go to prison.

"I've been stabbed, I've been shot twice," says Thompson. "I've felt the wrath of this thing."

For years, this wrathful thing raged on – between the "Johnsons" from the B6 postcode and the "Burgers" from B21. Police intervention foundered. Government initiatives fell by the wayside. Community groups failed to implement any kind of reconciliation. At its height, the internecine feud claimed the lives of two women caught in the crossfire: Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, who were shot outside a hair salon in Aston at a New Year's party in January 2003. The double murder garnered extensive media coverage. After that, rival gang members continued to kill one another with startling regularity, but their deaths were deemed less newsworthy. It seemed everyone just got used to it.

But now, thanks to the intervention of a documentary-maker, a former cabinet minister and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process, the two warring sides have done what once seemed not merely impossible but unthinkable: they have reached a truce. As a result, incidents of violent crime in the two postcodes have halved.

Today, a handful of former gang members are sitting around a table in a community centre in Aston. A year ago, they would have been more likely to try to kill one another than share the same room. And yet here they are: working together to run a social enterprise that provides school workshops and mentoring schemes for teenagers with the aim of keeping impressionable young boys out of gang culture. These days, they have exchanged weapons for laptop computers and whiteboards. Their modest offices are littered with workshop packs and to-do lists. They are keen to get into several local schools before the Easter break because there is a higher prevalence of adolescents joining gangs over the holidays.

"A lot of people want to make the change but they don't know how," says Simeon "Zimbo" Moore, 36, who runs the social enterprise scheme and was once affiliated with the Johnsons. "There's only one way [to live] we've been brought up to know… You have to make the youths understand what work is, you have to give them a vision of what it is because they think work is just a hustle, a grind.

"The only images they see are the chains, the cars, half-naked girls – this is what they're aspiring to. But they should be aspiring to be running businesses, to ownership of property. We should be building skills, offering an alternative."

Moore is spry, sharp and clever. Unlike many gang members who find themselves excluded from school as teenagers, he did well in his exams and was a straight-A student. But being in the gang was what the smart kids did. It seemed better than working for a living.

The lure of the gang lifestyle for young men such as Moore is a real and current problem – a 2004 Home Office survey found that up to 6% of 10- to 19-year-olds in England and Wales belong to a gang. In London, according to the Metropolitan Police, gang crime is responsible for 22% of serious violence, 17% of robbery and half of all shootings. Outside the capital, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool gangs account for 65% of all firearm homicides in the UK.

But in Birmingham, at least, there is cause for optimism. "Now there are no sides," Moore says. "I don't see borders or divisions. I deal with everyone on an individual level."

Sitting next to him, plugged into an Apple Mac, is Tobeijah Atkinson, 27, a Burger Boy who used to be Moore's sworn enemy. He takes out his earphones and nods, his eyes half-obscured by the pushed-down peak of his baseball cap.

"There's a Johnson and a Burger and they're carbon copies of each other," Atkinson says. "How can I hate someone in the exact same predicament as me?"

"We come from the same background," Moore agrees. "Totally."

The extraordinary story of how two bitterly divided gangland factions come to be sitting together at the same table is told in a forthcoming film.One Mile Away – so-called because one mile is all that divides the two postcodes – was made by acclaimed documentary-maker Penny Woolcock and won the prestigious Michael Powell award for best feature film at the Edinburgh film festival last year. Woolcock was already well-known in Birmingham because of her groundbreaking work on 1 Day, a 2009 hip-hop musical set against the backdrop of gun crime in the city and starring Dylan Duffus, an untrained actor plucked from the streets and affiliated with the Burgers.

In the summer of 2010, Woolcock got a phone call out of the blue from Matthias Thompson, a Johnson, who wanted her to act as a neutral go-between for the two sides to explore the idea of a truce.

"I wanted to be able to look back when I was older and say I'd made history," Thompson says now of that initial phone call. "I wanted to stop the violence rather than waste our energy running each other down."

Woolcock agreed to help. She set up a meeting between Thompson and Duffus.

"I was sick of seeing people get killed," Duffus explains. "When people in this community get murdered, it doesn't make the news. You're just dead."

The gangland battle in inner-city Birmingham had been raging for the best part of 20 years. In the 1990s, an altercation over a woman escalated and ended in murder. The Aston crew took their name from a local fish bar – Johnsons. The other faction, who used to congregate at a burger bar near the Sikh temple, called themselves the Burger Boys. The split divided families and friendship groups. Many of the gang members were related. Their parents went to church together.

The rival gangs evolved in an era of heightened racial tension: there had been race riots in 1981 and again in 1985 and the West Midlands police were accused of heavy-handedness in their tactics. Even now, hatred of the police runs deep. According to Duffus: "If you're born black, [the police think] you're born a criminal."

With unemployment always high, working for a gang, with its complex web of loyalty, peer pressure and family ties, became the normal way for a certain type of young boy to make a living. Often these boys had absent fathers, as was the case with Joel Ecclestone.

"My dad is a big anger source," Ecclestone says. "If there was an argument on the street, there was no dad to stop and say, 'Don't do that.' My role models were gangbangers."

For kids such as Ecclestone, the gang became a new, male family. Hanging out on the streets, dabbling in illegal activity, was how they kept themselves occupied. It's what their friends were doing. They felt ignored by the system and unfairly targeted by police. A generation of young men got drawn into drugs, guns and other criminality.

"It's what you grow up with," says Moore. "It's normality. It's not hard, it's not easy, it's just life." He believes that adolescents join gangs because of four main factors: low aspirations, low self-worth, an absence of law-abiding male role models and peer pressure. Between the ages of 13 and 17, he says, there doesn't seem to be any viable alternative: "It's self-hatred. This is why he [a Burger] don't like me [a Johnson]: because I see myself in him."

As a gang member, you get used to living your life on the road, looking over your shoulder, constantly on the brink of paranoia in case you unwittingly venture into enemy territory. There are certain unspoken rules you live by. When you drive a car, it has to be a rental so that you can look flash and keep up appearances, but also so that you can change it regularly and the police can't trace you. When you're at the wheel, you sit leaning back, low down in your seat so that your face is hidden. You always make sure you can reverse out of a situation. You never drive down a dead-end. You should preferably travel with at least two other people.

"Trust is a luxury," Duffus says. "You have to stay on point."

Atkinson likens daily life as a gang member to depression. "If you wake up every morning and you've got to fear for your life and you're being stereotyped by people, you become numb to life and situations. I'd wake up and think: 'I'm supposed to get shot at.'"

And all too often, these young men will see their friends die. They get used to it. A necessary detachment seeps in. Time and again, they tell me that they felt "cold" when they saw someone killed.

"At one stage, I was going to funerals regular," says Ashley Woodcock. Many of them will go to prison. Most of the men I speak to have done time, for crimes ranging from gun possession to attempted murder.

What keeps a gang together in this chaotic environment? Pride and tribal loyalty. A distrust of outside authority. A belief that the police are out to get you because of your colour or your background. In a gang, your peers will stand up for you. Battles will be fought in other people's names and unity is forged in opposition. If someone shows disrespect, however trivial, there will be retribution. Like the mafia or the mob, this is a criminal fraternity based on blood.

At first, Woolcock had little idea what she was getting herself into. "It took up all of my life," she says. "It was 18 months full-time from that phone call with Shabba [Thompson] and I was completely out of my depth. You talk to the individuals and everybody knows that it's wrong. I had this idea that they'd all come together and I'd film them all becoming friends. Of course, it wasn't like that. I realised I was being completely naive."

The problem was that while Duffus and Thompson agreed the violence should end, the "gang-bangers" on both sides took a lot of persuading. Neither of them could get any traction within their communities. Initially, there was a total lack of trust. Several times during filming, Woolcock feared for her life and the lives of her two protagonists. There were false rumours that she was working for the police or that money was involved or that the whole film was a set-up.

"Sometimes I was threatened with guns, which was not very nice," Woolcock says, calmly running a hand through cropped, dyed red hair. She is a softly spoken woman, powered by a kind of frenetic energy. Physically, she resembles Helen Mirren, for whom she is often mistaken. She is quite possibly the last person you would expect to see caught up in the criminal underworld.

"But if someone killed me," she continues, "they'd do their time, it would be written about in the paper because I'm white, middle-class and reasonably well-known. Whereas if one of them had been killed, it would be just 'another black man's died'. Sometimes I did feel frightened for myself but mostly I was frightened for them and the naive way I was putting them in danger."

For a year, there was deadlock. Thompson and Duffus tried to get key gangland figures on board without success. People kept getting killed. Even the word "truce" was deemed too dangerous to speak out loud. On Boxing Day 2010, a man was shot in the leg at Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre. During filming, a 15-year-old was stabbed to death. No one could really remember what they were fighting for.

Woolcock came close to breaking point. "I thought: 'What on earth am I doing? I'm not making a film. I'm not a conflict resolutionist.'" In the end, she stuck with it, "out of sheer bloody-mindedness".

Slowly, slivers of progress began to appear through the gloom. After protracted and painstaking negotiations, major players from both sides began to warm to the idea. Moore, a talented rapper who had a following of more than 200,000 on a YouTube channel where he posted his home-made music videos, was one of the key figures to sign up. He came on board with big ambitions: "What really needed to change was the whole lifestyle – not just the gang," he says. "It was the mentality."

At around the same time, the film's producer, former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell, set up a meeting with diplomat Jonathan Powell, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. There is an unforgettable scene in One Mile Away where Powell and Purnell are shown sitting on one side of a long conference table, facing three gang members over neatly cut sandwiches and bowls of fresh fruit. Powell warned them all it would be a long and difficult process, but that the most important thing was "to keep pedalling the bicycle".

"I did see interesting parallels and echoes from not just Northern Ireland but other conflicts as well," says Powell, over the phone. "With armed groups like the IRA or gangs you tend to find that they only talk to themselves. They exist in a cultural and physical ghetto with very little idea of what the outside world thinks of them. One of the first things is to persuade them to see the other person's point of view… Once you get people talking, it mustn't break down.

"You have to take a lot of personal and political pain to keep this going and there will be setbacks… What really matters with implementation is that you have to stick to it."

And ultimately, they did stick to it – to the astonishment of almost everyone. The nationwide riots of 2011 had an unexpected impact. After the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in north London, the Birmingham gang members began to question why they were directing their anger at one another when there were broader injustices to be fought.

Today, a kind of peace exists in the streets on either side of Birchfield Road; the truce is not official and there was never the neat reconciliation of smiles and shaking hands that Woolcock had hoped for.

"But what did happen is that significant people on both sides started working together and building up trusting relationships," she says.

The production team are now in regular contact with the One Mile Away social enterprise, providing business mentoring. Woolcock herself regularly makes the trip to Birmingham, where she is clearly well-respected by the people she filmed. The key, she says, has been the involvement of those actively involved in the gang lifestyle. From the start, this was a grassroots movement rather than an initiative imposed from on high.

"To have the people who were inflaming that war in the first place to turn round and say, 'Actually, it's dumb' is much more powerful," Woolcock explains. "It's becoming more cool not to be in a gang now."

Jonathan Powell believes the process could be rolled out to tackle other gangland feuds: "Am I optimistic? Yes. There's no such thing as an insoluble armed conflict or gang conflict."

The need is pressing. Gangland killings in different parts of the country continue – earlier this month, three young black men were killed in south London over the course of a weekend. In Birmingham, there is a tangible sense that violence still pulses close to the surface. Last week, one of the young men featured in the film was charged with a murder he claims he didn't commit. The film-makers had lost touch with him in recent months as he had moved to a different area.

Dividing lines still exist. Not everyone thinks the truce is a good idea. Joel Ecclestone is uneasy posing for the Observer photograph because he has to be driven through enemy territory to get to the location. As he stands waiting for the picture to be taken, his eyes are restlessly scanning the horizon. He seems to exist in a perpetual state of heightened awareness, primed and ready for whatever might come his way.

But in this small patch of the city there is, at last, the existence of a commodity that has been in short supply. There is hope. And there is a determination from young men such as Simeon, Matthias, Dylan, Ashley, Joel, Tobeijah and Daniel that their children will not grow up in the same way they did.

"I was willing to risk my life for stupidity," Ecclestone says after the photo has been taken, "so I might as well risk it for something good."

It is a fragile peace, but every day that it lasts, it grows a little stronger.

One Mile Away opens at cinemas on 29 March. It will be shown on Channel 4 in April.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Anti-gang project visits Churchill Gardens Estate

Posted by Poppy Bradbury on Feb 22, 13 

An anti-gang project that works to steer vulnerable youngsters away from a life of crime is coming to Pimlico.

Westminster Council's Your Choice roadshow takes place on the Churchill Gardens Estate on tomorrow (Saturday).

The event, which was planned months ago, comes just weeks after teenager Hani Abou El Kheir was stabbed to death in nearby Lupus Street on January 27.

Youngsters can take part in parkour (free running) and graffiti workshops, while picking up vital advice in Johnson's Place, opposite Coleridge House, from 11am to 4pm.

Councillor Nickie Aiken, the council's leader for young people and community protection, said: "The urgency and importance of the schemes was brought into sharp focus earlier this year.

"The problem with gangs impacts on all our lives and unfortunately Westminster isn't immune.

"This was something we recognised in 2010 and have been working hard to eradicate.

"That is why we set up the Your Choice programme - to offer young people real options away from the supposed temptations that gangs can offer."

As part of a similar project funded by the European Commission, Youth SecURe Streets, young people from South Westminster interviewed politicians and police about gang problems, and encouraged young people to choose the right path for London youth radio station, Reprezent 107.3FM.

Concerned residents on the estate can speak to council, police and CityWest Homes officers at weekly surgeries starting on Thursday, March 7, from 4pm to 7pm.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mother of murdered Islington schoolboy Martin Dinnegan urges shops to help in fight against street crime

Islington Gazette
February 21, 2013 Thursday

'The mother of murdered 14-year-old Martin Dinnegan this week claimed her son might have survived if more businesses were willing to help young people in danger, as she fronts a campaign urging them to do just that.

Lorraine Dinnegan is spearheading the CitySafe Havens scheme, which is dedicated to Martin's memory and urges shops, restaurants and other businesses to offer refuge to youngsters who are at immediate risk from street crime.

Speaking to the Gazette on Monday, she reflected on the moment she says one of her son's friends appealed to a shopkeeper for help and was turned away, as the violence that ultimately claimed his life escalated.

Mrs Dinnegan, 45, of Barnsbury, said: "It must have been about 10 or 15 minutes before he was stabbed. The boy went into a chicken shop and was shouting out that something was going to happen, but he was told to get out.

"The police could have been informed. They could have been called at that time and who knows, maybe Martin would still be here."

Martin was stabbed four times on June 26, 2007, and bled to death in Tollington Way, Holloway, in his brother's arms.

He had been a promising pupil at St Aloysius College in Hornsey Lane, Archway.

Mrs Dinnegan noted that a teenager tragically shot dead on Saturday was also a St Aloysius pupil. Joseph Burke-Monerville, 19, was killed in Clapton, in what police believe was the result of mistaken identity.

Mrs Dinnegan said: "It's just dreadful when you hear that. You think, there's got to be parents and brothers and sisters and the effect it has on whole community.

"It just makes you realise there's still so much more work that needs to be done to help these young people. There's still a fair bit to go."

Thirteen businesses or public institutions have so far signed up to the CitySafe Havens scheme, which is organised by campaigning group London Citizens.

The sites will welcome youngsters in danger and staff will be given training in dealing with emergency situations.

Mrs Dinnegan added: "I think about all the incidents that we hear with young people, in situations where they're in danger and have nowhere to go. It's really sad when you hear that, but that's the reality.

"If people know about the safer havens and know where they are, they will feel safer knowing they can go there to seek refuge.

"This is in memory of Martin, but also to all the other young people who have lost their lives.

"The vision is that we would like to see lots more places coming on board. It's something that's not beyond us, something we're all capable of taking part in."

The latest "havens" are council buildings Islington Town Hall, in Upper Street, Islington and 7 Newington Barrow Way, not far from where Martin died in Holloway.

Last Thursday, Mrs Dinnegan was joined by pupils of Mount Carmel Technology College, Archway, at a launch event at Newington Barrow Way.

Others include independent supermarkets, Tesco Express stores, chicken shops and Rowans bowling alley in Finsbury Park.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

London Gangs (Mobs) & Firms Before the 1950s

The 1700's to 1940

In the 1700's and 1800's London was plagued with crime and gangs. During this time it would have been considered the gang capital of the world. As the city grew and expanded outwards the wealthier residents moved into the suburbs leaving only the most deprived in the central areas to fend for themselves. Prostitution, robbery, pick-pocketing and protection rackteering were amongst the most common crimes. Children as young as 10 could face capital punishment for crimes as petty as thievery. There were a mix of gangs, usually known as mobs, who claimed territory - usually a stretch of street - and often took their name from their territory (i.e. Elephant & Castle Boys). There were also a number of crime families who operated in districts surrounding what is today known as the 'City of London'.

In the East End alone it was estimated that a third of the population lived below the poverty line and 50% of children born their died before the age of 5. Most of the gangs and families listed below were active between the late 1800's and up to 1940. By 1937 the police and government identified what were London's most gang infested districts, they were Hackney & Hoxton, the East End (referring to Tower Hamlets & Newham), north London (Islington, Camden & Tottenham), north east London (referring to Stratford, Leytonstone, Leyton) and the West End which was being carved up by organised firms from across the city.

Up to as many as 70 gangs battled on London streets from the 1900's onwards. Gun battles, stabbings, teen on teen killings, colours and gang identities, sub-cliques, rivalries and alliances were all common features of the old Gangs of London. The social disorganisation theory holds true, with many of the affected areas still suffering from gangs today (some even have the same names).

The book "Gangs of London" by Brian McDonald chronicles the gang histoies (click here to buy book or see more details). Below are excerpts from the chapter "Street Gangs" (NB: below is copyright of Brian McDonald 2010; this piece may have to be removed at short notice if requested by the author whose contact details we could not obtain).

Brian McDonald; "Street Gangs" (excerpts from the Gangs of London, 2010, p.59-72)
Street Gangs became a national concern in the United Kingdom from around 1870 onwards. Newspapers began to carry reports of their fights and they became known generally as 'scuttlers' in Manchester, 'sloggers' and later 'peaky blinders' in Birmingham, and 'cornermen' in Liverpool. Their principle pastime was fighting territorial battles against their neighbours, armed with buckled belts, sticks, stones, knives and even guns. Many of the gangs were identified simply by the streets where they lived...London became plagued by street gangs...especially in the poor, overcrowded areas of east and south London.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, criminals infested London's rookeries, rundown areas of dense housing. The most notorious was a stinking slum surrounded by festering ditches at Jacob's Island, on the Bermondsey side of the Thames. This served for Dicken's description of Fagin's den of thieves in Oliver Twist and where his villain, Bill Sikes, comes to grief. Another, at Clerkenwell, straddled the area between Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell Green and St. John's Street. A short distance away, running south from Old Street, was the notorious St. Luke's rookery, and close to that was the St. Giles rookery covering the area where Tottenham Court Road tube station now stands. These rookeries bred and attracted thieves, who targeted the better off parts of London: Highbury, Hampstead, the West End and the City. In the east and southeast London, targets included docks and cargo ships. The ghettos had the highest incidences of murder and provided hangmen with hundreds of clients. They contained 'flash houses' that served as training places for young thieves and meeting places for established thieves to plan robberies and sell or exchange their plunder. The narrow streets were crammed with dilapidated dwellings and underground escape routes weaved their way through the slums...When the rookeries were cleared in the mid-1800's, the crooks remained and simply operated from better premises. A series of incidents give a flavour of the underworld at the turn of the Nineteenth Century into the Twentieth, much of it involving teenagers.

One of the most notable of the early gangs was the Green Gate, named after the Green Gate public house in City Road, Hoxton, east London. Once a wealthy area, Hoxton had been abandoned by its middle classes, who were lured out to the space and fresh air of the new suburbs. Their place was taken by poor workers, serving the heavy industries that boomed after the completion of the Regents Canal in 1820, and soon the area became one of the most densley populated in Europe...

On Christmas Eve, [in Hakcney, 1881] a gang came down Ottaway Street in Lower Clapton, known as 'Tiger Bay', and picked a quarrel with Charles 'Ginger' Eaton outside his home at number nine. The attackers were the Dove Row gang from Haggerston. Eaton fought back. He explained in court, 'I went into them the same as they did to me, and took my own defence'. The nineteen-year-old Eaton handled himself well enough for the gang to run off, pursued by Eaton's father waving a poker. They shouted back that they would remember when they came again.

Late on New Year's Day, the trouble shifted to the Rendlesham Arms in Stillman Street, Clapton, when about twenty of the Dove Row gang went looking for Eaton. When they failed to find him, they started a general rumpus that quickly got out of hand. Three pub dwellers were stabbed in the face, one of whom nearly died from a severed artery. Police rounded up seven Dove Row boys: William Hubbard, David Jennings, Henry Kirby, Frederick Ball, Patrick Kennedy, David Williams, and John Collins. They were charged with riot and wounding. Kennedy was aged twenty; the rest were in their late teens. Others were charged with occasioning actual bodily harm. John Collins denied being there but did admit once belonging to the street fighting gang in the days when Old Nichol Street, in Bethnal Green, fought Dove Row. He had given it up after his head was split in three places. The Central Criminal Court did not believe him...[they] were jailed...all with hard labour (compulsory physical work imposed in addition to imprisonment).

The Green Gate gang made the news again on 21 February 1882, when Samuel Wallers was attacked by George Collins on Shaftesbury Street, close to City Road. The argument had been about the merits of teetotallers, who Collins had little regard for. When his offer of a drink from a flask was refused, he informed Wallers that he was a pugilist...He then knocked Wallers down....Collins' belief in his pugilistic ability came unstuck when Wallers got up and knocked him down. Collins regained his feet and pulled a pistol from his pocket, only for Wallers to brush it aside and knock him down again. At this, the gun went off. Two policemen heard the shot and came and arrested Collins, taking two guns from him...

Guns seem to have been a more serious problem among the London street gangs than in Manchester and Liverpool. On 31 May 1885, William Brown, aged sixteen, Harry Foxcroft, eighteen, and a man named Mason shot James Page in Upper Street, Islington, in return for a previous attack on some of their pals. They then threatened John 'Bunny' Ayres, a resident of White Lion Street, one of the most violent locations in London, with similar treatment...

Brown, who admitted wounding Page and firing a shot at Harry Hobbs, received five years' penal servitude, Foxcroft, who resided at Easton Street, Clerkenwell, which was another notorious north London location, got eighteen months with hard labour.

West London too was gripped by street warfare. In 1888, a long-running series of fights were staged between the Fitzroy Place Boys, from the back of Tottenham Court Road, and the Lisson Grove gang, from Marylebone. Matters came to a head in May, when Frank Cole of the Fitzroy crowd was found with his girlfiend, Cissy Chapman, in rival territory outside Madame Tussaud's Waxworks on Marylebone Road. Cole was challenged by two Lisson Grove Boys. 'Do you know any of the Fitzroy Place lads?' one asked. 'Yes, and glad to know them too.' came Cole's not-too-clever reply.

Twenty more lads were whistled up to help punch and kick Cole to the ground, giving Cissy a black eye when she asked why it took so many of them.

The following evening, Cole gathered together seven or eight friends and went looking for revenge. They met at 'the Fair', a disused ground between Tottenham Court Road and Whitfield Street, where they were joined by a half-dozen others. Soon, they spotted a Lisson lad in nearby Howland Street...knocked him down and kicked him. Then they set off to search the Green Man public house on Euston Road and, finding nothing, moved on to Regent's Park, a collecting point for the Lisson Grove gang.

It was there that Joe Rumbold and a girl passed some of the gang, who jostled him. A brief row followed and [George] Galletly pulled a knife and stabbed Rumbold twice in the back and neck. He staggered a few hundred yards before collapsing, later dying in a cab taking him to hospital.

Police arrested eight youths...and charged them with murder...[The youths] saw a newspaper notice offering a pardon in exchange for evidence. Both denied being members of the Fitzroy Place gang and the Decker Gang (a misnaming by police of the Dials gang, from Seven Dials)...[Gallety] was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment due to his age...others were sentenced to short terms with hard labour.

In the 1890s, clashes between the Somers Town Boys, located just north of King's Cross, and the Clerkenwell Boys, from south of Pentonville Road, led to several shootings and stabbings. Police described the gang members as being employed in their spare time in faction fighting. Gangs were able to buy firearms from pawnbrokers for around ten shillings apiece and it was not unusual for twenty or more youths to wander the streets looking for rivals to shoot at...

A numbr of gangs went by the name Forty Thieves, the most famous being one in 1820s New York and another later on in south London. [John] Carey remained a member of the east London version and was jailed again in 1896, with three others, for burglary. Police described them as members of a dangerous gang. In 1906, Carey was sentenced to five years penal servitude, with Jeremiah Barry and Samuel Bromley, for robbery with violence...

On 7 March 1897, fifty to sixty Bethnal Green Boys, forerunners of Dodger Mullins' gang, went hunting for Hackney's Broadway Boys, a street mob that located at Haggerston: they fired shots at any they came across. Terrified residents ducked bullets whizzing overhead, richocheting off buildings and smacking into shops. A shower of bottles and bricks accompanied the pistol shots. Charles Luton was shot in the knee and lamed. Joseph Norton, who doged six bulets, hid and watched the gang run by. He then followed and grabbed Joseph Fitzpatrick and held him for the police. Frederick Millard had five shots fired at him and, in the harsh employment environment of the time, lost his job for attending police court on four occasions. George Morgan had a revolver pointed in his face and was asked if he was one of the Broadway fellows, to which he was pleased to reply that he was not. He watched them fire shots at a young man and into an ice-cream shop. Six youths, aged sixteen to nineteen, were arrested after witnesses reported seeing them dumping revolvers into Regent's canal...

Halloween worked its magic on 31 October 1897 in Islington, when the Pentonville Boys challenged the Grosvenor Street Boys to a fight, as part of an ongoing war. These particular Grosvenors were schoolboys, who considered the offer then declined it. No matter: Billy Bond shot Alfred Webb in the leg. Bond had declared his intention of shooting someone that night and it appears he believed Webb had shown some inclination to fight...

The name Sabini came up at the Central Criminal Court in June 1898, when Augustus, of Eyre Hill Street in the heart of Clerkenwell Sabini territory, was shot at by a crowd of about thirty boys. It appears on this occasion that a Sabini was an innocent victim, who had declined to have a fight. One youth, sixteen-year-old Alfred Smith, had the indignity of being given one days' imprisonment.

Better-off neighbourhoods had no immunity to gang warfare. In 1900, Chelsea Bay Boys and Sands End Boys received a not from their neighbours, the Manor Street Boys, to come and fight,a follow-up to a previous skirmish outside Lewis's Club in Kings Road. They met in Oakham Street (now Oakley Street), once the home of explorer Robert Falcon Scott and close to the residences of writers and the professional classes: here they battled with studded belts with large buckles. Blood splattered the pavement as gangs of teenagers went at it. Evidence suggests the two gangs had been warring for some time, mostly with their heavy-buckled belts, a popular weapon at the time, as they could be worn legitimately but could cause considerable damage...

In October 1902, Russian Jews belonging to the Bessarabian Society were in conflict with Polish Jews belonging to the Odessa Society. The quarrel...was continued in Whitechapel. On top of this, both were deeply into squeezing money and favours from immigrant tradespeople, who could not go to the police for fear of arrest for their own illicit occupations. The 'Bessas', who had the strongest grip on the protection business, were challenged by envious Odessas. A series of fights culminated in a good old barney in the York Minister pub in Philpot Street, squashed into the area in which Jack Spot and the Kray twins would later blossom. Lots of cuttings and shootings led to one death and several prison sentences for the Bessa Arabs....

At the turn of the century, London became a focal point for criminal gangs. Mass immigration had seen a wave of Irish, Scots, Jews and Italians arriving, plus a homegrown influx from the English countryside and cities. Unemployment became a major problem, to the point where many Britson sought refuge in the United States, bringing some respite to provincial cities. Soldiers returning from the Boer War swelled the number of unemployed. Other major cities, especially Manchester, saw a decline in gang activity, which was often attributed to the success of the new Lads' Club movement and the growth in popularity of sports such as football, which diverted youthful energies from violence. However, the capital saw, if anything, a movement toward more serious forms of gangsterism. While some old street and neighbourhood rivalries persisted, the heavier street thugs graduated to organised or semi-organised villainy.

Joblessness inevitably leads to an increase in gambling, prostitution and petty and organised crime. All sections of the city's vast working class communities now turned their hand to making a living by any means, only relenting for a spell at the onset of World War One. With the stretching of police resources, to deal with an increasingly militant women's suffrage movement, the scene was set for a new chapter in the story of London's gangland.

List of Gangs 1870-1940 London
  • Abbey Street Boys
  • Aldgate Mob
  • Balham Boys
  • Barnsbury Boys
  • Battersea Boys
  • Bay Boys
  • Bemerton Boys
  • Bermondsey Boys
  • Bessarabians
  • Black Boy Alley Gang
  • Blind Beggar Gang
  • Borough Boys
  • Bow Road Gang
  • Brick Lane Boys
  • Brixton Boys
  • Broad Mob (Camden Town)
  • Broadway Boys (Hackney)
  • Brummagen Boys
  • Camden Town Gang
  • Canonbury Boys
  • Carrick Gang
  • City Road Boys
  • Cortesi Brothers
  • Dalston Boys
  • Donkey Row Gang
  • Dove Row Gang
  • Dover Road Boys (Lambeth)
  • Duckett Street Boy
  • Elephant & Castle Boys
  • Fann Street Gang
  • Finsbury Gang
  • Finsbury Park Gang
  • Flash Mob
  • Forty Thieves
  • Globe Bridge Gang (Bow)
  • Goose Green Boys
  • Green Gate Gang
  • Grosvenor Street Boys
  • Hackney Mob
  • Hawkhurst Gang
  • Houndsditch Gang
  • Hoxton Mob
  • Islington Mob
  • Kentish Town Mob
  • Kings Cross Gang
  • Lambeth Boys
  • MacDaniel Gang
  • Manor Street Boys
  • Messina Brothers
  • New Cross Boys
  • Nile Mob
  • Odessians
  • Pentonville Boys
  • Red Hands (Deptford)
  • Rotherhithe Boys
  • Sabini Brothers
  • Sands End Boys
  • Seven Dials Gang
  • Silver Hatchets (Islington)
  • Somers Town Boys
  • Spanish Gang
  • Swell Mob
  • The Walker Gang
  • Tiger Yard Boys
  • Titanic Mob
  • Vendetta Mob
  • Walworth Road Boys
  • Wandsworth Boys
  • Wapping Boys
  • Watney Streeters
  • Whitechapel Mob
  • White Gang
  • White Lion Gang
  • Yiddishers

Friday, 15 February 2013

Gang Maps (page from original site)


Below is from the Gang Maps page at the old LondonStreetGangs site, to see the Google Maps use the links at the end of this post.

Human Territoriality

Territoriality commonly refers to the processes and practices that regulate and/or control the use of space (Alonso 1999). A derivative of the Latin nouns terra (earth, land) and verb terrere (to warn or frighten of), territory can imply defended as well as bounded space (Gottmann 1973; Gold 1982). Territorial behaviour is frequently argued to be fundamental to human behaviour, however, for young people it has increasingly been argued that it significantly constraints their lives, particularly in disadvantaged areas (Pickering et al 2008).

Whilst animal territoriality relates to physiological needs linked with survival, human territoriality also embraces advanced needs for “identity, status, recognition by others, and achievement of self image” (Gold 1982, p.6). Hall (1966) claimed that humans made use of strategies to defend land and turf with Porteous (1977) dividing this space into micro (my chair), meso (my city) and macro (my country) spatial units.

According to Robert Sack, there are ten tendencies that are present during territorial functioning that do not operate independently from one another – see image below.

American gang researcher and geographer Alex Alonso (1999), asserts that the first three tendencies must always be present, stating that the classification tendency [tendency number 1] “is fulfilled when a group makes a claim to an area, and claims dominance over this space. This space must also be recognised and respected by other groups. Classification pertains to and is specific to an area...Successful communication [tendency number 2] of a territory requires that boundaries are understood and recognised. Territoriality is also a very efficient strategy to not only occupy and operate within a particular locale, but it also functions as an enforcement tool to control over that area [tendency number 3]. The fourth tendency, reifying power, is accomplished by how a group dominates public space and challenges those that attempt to contest their presence. It is the method by which groups reemphasise their dominant position. This can occur on any scale from street corner groups to nation-states.” (Alonso 1998, p.49)

Gang “Territory”

Many early studies of gang formation were developed with the assertion that gang members resided locally, within their neighbourhood or territory (Thrasher 1927; Whyte 1943). Whilst this assertion held true in previous eras, the increased mobility of poor urban families, the influence of school bussing, urban redevelopment and housing regeneration are all factors that have weakened the residency territory relationship (Aldridge et al 2010, Carlie 2002; Decker and Van Winkle 1996, Hagedorn 1988, Tita et al 2005). It has become less important for gang members to reside within their chosen gangs neighbourhood, however, location remains to be an important factor, as observed by Tita et al “gangs ‘hang out’ and need an identifiable physical space for this activity” (2005 p.273).

An observation by many researchers is that gangs have been known to suppress crime, maintain social order, and provide financial stability to economically disadvantaged areas (Pattillo-McCoy 1999; Ratcliffe et al 2011; Suttles 1968; Taylor 2001; Venkatesh 1997, 2006, 2008). Ratcliffe et al contend that “well-established territories serve to manage conflict by keeping individuals from different groups better isolated…[which] leads to the predication that areas solidly controlled by a single gang will have less crime than areas utilised by multiple gangs” (2011 p.5).

One British study, Young people and territoriality in British cities, concluded that territoriality was a cultural expectation passed down to young people from older generations and often had deep historical roots. Interviews with young people from several British cities, including London, revealed that territoriality was learned behaviour and that stories told by older generations were significant in the intergenerational transmission of territorial culture (Pickering et al 2008, p.5). Unsurprisingly, the research also found a strong interrelationship between territoriality and disadvantaged areas. Gangs and territorial youth groups have often been found predominantly in, or originating from, multiply deprived settings and socially disorganised neighbourhoods.

Group crime, or gang crime, involving rival areas has been a constant feature of British urban life for over 100 years. There are many areas of Britain whereby young people have historically sought recognition and respect amongst their peers by taking part in territorial activities, whilst this is not confined to deprived inner cities it is here where this phenomenon has gained the most publicity due to the higher volumes of serious violence, perceived to be motivated by a sense of ownership over place and a willingness to protect the area.

Some qualitative works that highlight territorial “gang violence” in Britain covering the late 1800’s to 1980 include the ‘Gangs of London’ by Brian McDonald, ‘Gangs of Manchester’ by Andrew Davies, ‘Hooligan: a history of respectable fears’ by Geoffrey Pearson and ‘Warrior Kings: South London Gang Wars 1976-1982’ by Noel Smith.

In 2008, the Local Government White Paper set out the aim of creating strong and cohesive communities, a key aspect of this being a sense of belonging to one’s neighbourhood. Gustafson (2001) recognised a “quasi-natural bond...between the place...and its residents [which has] often been considered to be crucial for individual wellbeing and for social cohesion” (Gustafson 2001 p.668). Individuals and groups can achieve a sense of well-being through the exercise of control within predictable routines (Giddens, 1984) and neighbourhoods remain important to everyday experiences and self-identity. Place attachment also provides access to a community of neighbours through social networks (Low and Altman 1992). In turn this can reinforce a communal sense of identity, particularly through shared experiences or a common culture or lifestyle – “in other words, place attachment and territoriality appear to be mutually reinforcing” (Pickering et al 2008, p.12).

In contrast, it is worth noting that place attachment can have the detrimental impact of reinforcing inward-looking tendencies, with immediate local loyalties potentially isolating residents from wider opportunities (Forrest and Kearns, 1999), this is what Suttles (1972) identified as the ‘defended neighbourhood’ whereby outsiders are either superfluous or threatening.

There are two types of maps used within the site to show geographical variations in “gang territories” of London, one which represents areas claimed by gangs (usually larger areas covering districts of post-codes, labelled as gang regions), and areas whereby gangs are known to hang out or reside (usually much smaller areas, usually a street or housing estate). The latter are what has been termed by some academics as ‘Gang Set Spaces’ (see below).

The Google Maps at the bottom of this page are ‘Gang Regions’, many are divided amongst invisible lines that represent postal code districts, particularly in more suburban and outer areas of London. These shapes can be quite misleading as the area where a group actually operates and spends most of its time is far smaller in reality. Whilst groups may lay claim to large areas as their territory, such as an entire postal district, there may only be several or even one location where that group hangs out which might equate to a housing estate, single street or housing block. The gang region maps therefore are imagined spaces; however, in some areas these spaces have become part of a young person’s ‘mind-mapping’ with which to help them determine how they can negotiate safely through urban spaces. The closer you get to central London, the smaller and more defined these gang regions become. Here gang areas are typically defined by roads, railway lines and other physical markers – often housing estate boundaries.

Gang Regions in London Map (London Post Codes only, click image to enlarge)

Gang “Set Space”

Gang ‘Set Space’ was a term coined by Tita et al (2005), derived from interviewing gang members and having them map places where they came together as a sociological group in order to “hang out”. Whilst gangs may claim large ill-defined territories, the main hang out areas are frequently much smaller geographic units, as noted by Tita et al, they (Gang Set Spaces) are much smaller than neighbourhoods or even census tracts. The gang set space represents a relatively small area within a neighbourhood, so whilst a gang can claim ownership and allegiance to an entire neighbourhood (or postal code) as being their “endz”, the notion of set space recognises an actual area within a neighbourhood where gang members come together as a gang. As noted by Tita et al:

“What ‘hot spots’ are to the study of crime, ‘set space’ is to the study of gangs…Thus, just as sets are part of a larger gang, set space is a subset of a larger gang turf or territory” (2005 p.273).

Ratcliffe et al (2011) contend that there are important distinctions between gang territory in general and that of gang set space, the latter being physically small areas within larger gang territory that are most critical to the gang. In London this may be a particular building, block of flats or a street. For example, tower blocks / balconies of flats can be optimal places for gang members to ‘hang out’ owing to physical features (i.e. enhanced visibility of approaching vehicle and foot traffic, including police and/or rivals); where there is participation in the drugs economy a safe house, crack house or phone box may be particularly important to gang set space whilst a main thoroughfare or ‘front line’ may have optimal market features such as a steady stream of potential customers and/or high volume of pedestrian traffic (Eck 1994).

As previously mentioned, within the gang regions there is often only a small number of areas whereby the gang actually hangs out. For example the Wood Green MOB, and its follow on generations, have for many years occupied the N22 postal code in north London. This is a particularly large area which stretches from Bowes Park to the north right down to Turnpike Lane in the south. The area encompasses several housing estates, a busy tube station and large shopping centre. Within that large area are three much smaller notable areas where the gang spends most of its time – Sky City and Sandling’s housing estates and the Avenues (Gladstone Avenue). Furthermore, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders banning alleged members of the gang from Wood Green has contributed to the existence of new gang set space on housing estates within the N11 postal district.

Membership of the gang may be drawn from anywhere in N22, or anywhere in London for that matter (see Residential Outsiders below), however it is these aforementioned smaller set spaces that have always been key locations for members to hang out.

Gang Set Spaces in London Map (London Post Codes only, click image to enlarge) 

Residential Outsiders

“Gangs are often assumed or argued to be territorial entities in the popular imagination, by police authorities and even by academic researchers” (Aldridge et al 2010 p.72). A consistent assumption made by academic research in the UK, and elsewhere, is that gangs are grounded in territory. Part of that assumption has it that gang members are resident in the areas where their gang exists, however, this is not always the case (see proliferation of London gangs, London Street Gangs 2008).

Do gang members’ addresses map onto territory? They do not have to and often don’t, the term for these gang members was given as ‘Residential Outsiders’ by academics Judith Aldridge, Robert Ralphs and Juanjo Medina during their research in south Manchester.

In their explanation of residential outsiders, Aldridge et al (2010) draw on similar findings from the US context which have recognised that gang members’ territories and neighbourhoods of residence are not necessarily directly coterminous (Moore et al, 1983), as quoted from a Manchester gang member in their study:

“Most gangs are people that live directly near each other...But as you get more established now you get people from all over that want to be with their cousin, friends, whatever, you know: meeting in jail, however you meet. Hanging around, going out for a few beers, you get part of the gang. I know people from Belmont gangs, people that’s not from Belmont, they haven’t got addresses from Belmont” (*Belmont is a fictional neighbourhood name)

The idea is that close neighbourhood affiliations underpinned the original names and membership of local gangs, however, through time membership evolves to encompass what has been termed residential outsiders. The research in Manchester found that members commonly had addresses away from their gang neighbourhood, including some in what were perceived to be rival gang neighbourhoods. Aldridge et al (2010) identify three primary processes that result in residential outsiders:


As observed by Aldridge et al (2010), residential outsiders can result from gang members being voluntarily or involuntarily re-housed. The formation and proliferation of London gangs over the past twenty years, particularly those in the suburbs, has been aided by mass urban regeneration. For example, many gangs that now exist in suburban parts of south London (Catford, Gipsy Hill, Norwood, Croydon, Thornton Heath, Penge) had their roots in areas such as Brixton, Peckham, Deptford and New Cross - all areas where slum clearance and later demolition of brutalise estates saw the dispersion of families further out of London. Similarly, those in north London suburbs have their roots in Hackney and Haringey boroughs.

What Aldridge et al (2010) highlight as particularly important from a policy perspective is that re-housing gang involved young people and their families has had very little impact, neither did it produce positive outcomes with members retaining their gang activity as residential outsiders. This is very significant considering the Home Office have often put forward re-housing as a viable exit strategy from gang membership.

Residing outside the gang neighbourhood but having family members (usually fathers) residing within it

Aldridge et al (2010, p.77) found that the most common explanation for the existence of residential outsiders derived from the influence of family connections within the gang neighbourhood.

Transition between schools

This was noted as being particularly common in the primary to secondary transition. Whereby young people attend schools away from their neighbourhood of residence, they may become part of gangs away from their home.

How this concept translates into movement through space is also important as popular accounts of territory make the assumption that membership of a gang affects all members in the same way, however, accounts of territorial spaces are highly individualised, as noted by Aldridge et al (2009):

“The extent to which individuals were fearful of ‘straying’ or ‘transgressing’ was often linked more to previous conflict with particular individuals (sometimes even members of their own gang), than to rival gang status per se. In such cases, they were fearful in home territory, ‘rival’ territory and further afield (such as the city centre). Such contradictions contradict simple and straightforward coterminous mapping of territory – of geographical space – to gangs” (Alridge et al 2010, p.78-79)


  • Aldridge, J. Ralphs, R. & Medina, J. (2010) Collateral damage: Territory and policing in an English gang city, In: Goldson, B. Ed. Youth in Crisis? ‘Gangs’, territoriality and violence. Routledge, pp. 78-88 
  • Alonso, Alex, (1999) Territoriality Among African American Street Gangs in Los Angeles, Masters Thesis, University of Southern Calfornia. 
  • Gold, J.R. (1982) Territoriality and human spatial behaviour, Journal of Progressive Human Geography, pp.6-44. 
  • Gustafson, P. (2001) ‘Roots and routes: exploring the relationship between place attachement and mobility’, Journal of Environment and Behaviour, Vol.33, pp.667-686. 
  • Pickering, J. Kintrea, K. Bannister, J. Reid, M. & Suzuki, N. (2008) Young people and territoriality in British cities, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 
  • Ratcliffe, J. Taniguchi, T.A. & Taylor, R.B. (2011) Gang Set Space, Drug Markets, and Crime around drug corners in Camden NJ, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 
  • Tita, G.E. Cohen, J. & Engbery, J. (2005) An Ecological Study of the Location of Gang “Set Space”, Journal of Social Problems, Vol.52, pp.272-299. 
Google Map Links

Preventing Gang Crime (page from original site)


Preventing Gang Crime (2011)

“There is no panacea for the solution of the gang problem and its related crime”, Frederick Thrasher (1927, p.369).


The problem of urban violence is increasingly being laid at the blame of “gangs” and with this increased focus on gangs other more plausible causes to issues of urban violence are being overlooked. The roots of urban violence are manifold. Youth gangs are symptomatic of many of the same social and economic problems as adult crime; mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism and multi-generation “benefit families” living in poverty.

Concern is being driven by the growing accounts of the media with violent incidents involving young people increasingly being reducible to the gang amidst a supposed ‘burgeoning’ youth gang culture. The problem of street violence as essentially a problem of gangs is flawed on empirical, theoretical and methodological grounds. The problem of urban violence in multiply deprived neighbourhoods is not essentially a problem of gangs and should not be constructed as if it is. This belief has pushed into the background the multitude of other factors that have a determinate effect on street-violence.

The coverage of the gang in the media bears many of the hallmarks of a moral panic in that reporting is out of all proportion to the actual threat.
  • Gang membership in the UK is no more than 3-7% (Home Office) of youths whilst 90% (Youth Justice Board) of youths regardless of ethnicity have not been involved in crime.
  • Gangs do not pose a significant threat to the safety of the wider community (most “gang-crime” occurs between “gang-members”).
  • There is no reliable definition as to what a gang is; furthermore not all gang members commit crime. According to a Home Office study of young gang members only 20% of self-defined members reported to having engaged in violence, weapon and drug related offences.
  • There is no accurate way to count and define “gang-related” crime, the true motive behind many so-called gang crimes lies in interpersonal disputes and trivial matters unrelated to the gang as a collective. 

The attention that the gang has received has led to mistaken conclusions that it alone is the problem and the solution to urban violence lies in suppressing the gang. As a result many of the responses have been shaped by political, public and media pressure to address gang issues within local authority boundaries. Public fear has been a consequence of media portrayals with stories that reinforce common beliefs about gangs, emphasising violent behaviour associated to gangs and gang members. Television news programmes and the front pages of newspapers often show the outcome of the most recent episode of gang violence and how it had affected neighbourhood residents or resulted in the injury or death of an innocent bystander.

Although many of these images and perceptions were the product of media generalisation and sensationalism, most researchers agree that gang behaviour had in fact changed from 2006 onwards, particularly with regard to violence. In the past gangs had rarely engaged in fights; when they did, the fights hardly ever resulted in serious injury. The use of firearms was an extremely isolated event. Although most so-called gang activity revolves around low level ASB and “hanging around” an increasing amount of offences involving knives being used to injure were occurring.

Recommended Reading: Gang talk and gang talkers: A critique (Hallsworth & Young 2008)

Partnership Approaches

In a number of areas local groups and police have begun to set up responses to gangs within their local authority boundaries although often due to political pressures and public fear driven by the media rather as a result of the objective reality of the gang problem.

At the early stages of gang development in the United States the development of such groups was the typical response in American cities with populations of 100,000 and over. A number of findings from studies on gang groups and police specific units conclude that:

Few formal mechanisms (such as standard operating procedures, defining gang-related crime and gang-member) are in place
  • Gang teams lack special policies, procedures or rules
  • Lack of managerial involvement reduced accountability
  • Casual approaches to performance measurement contributed to a sense of autonomy and lack of accountability
  • Excludes the community / do not practice community based policing
  • Rarely sought resident input, rarely formed partnerships with community groups, local businesses and other agencies. Partnerships were more likely with criminal justice personnel and were established and maintained for the express purpose of exchanging gang related intelligence. Police did not generally value information from non-criminal justice agencies
  • Officers and practitioners are poorly trained on gang related matters, such as how to correctly document gang members, an introduction to gang culture etc
  • Units lack adequate performance measures
  • Rarely engage in evaluation orientated activities, typically judged using global, subjective evaluation standards
  • Most important benefits of units was sharing / establishing intelligence on individuals
  • Substantial value was placed on suppression orientated enforcement. However, individual officers have limited contact with gang members. Furthermore, the nature of the contact often did not result in arrest but rather intelligence gathering
  • Most agencies responded to gang problems because of well publicised gang homicides and fights without carrying out a needs assessment to gauge the reality of the problem
  • No engagement of long-term planning processes or conducted research to monitor the changing nature of the problem
  • No meaningful evaluations of effectiveness of specialised or other departmental efforts related exclusively to gang enforcement. The highest priority of such units is to respond to crime whilst the lowest priority was of prevention and treatment strategies. 

Through fear of the situation worsening many local officials believe the way to stop it is to remove gang members from society through the criminal justice system (although this ignores the steady flow of new gang membership and does not address the reasons why young people form and join gangs in the first place) which is why it has been viewed as an unsuccessful approach in America which has in turn contributed to a young swelling prison population and proliferation of established gangs in prisons.

To address the gang problems successfully it is important that police, partners and practitioners have a good understanding of the problem. Contemporary youth gang violence is a symptom of other, deeper social problems (e.g. lack of economic opportunity and decaying social structures) and dealing with gangs requires a comprehensive approach that involves all members of the criminal justice community, schools, community leaders and young people themselves.

Some specific problems in addressing the situation is the fact that police, prosecutor and legislative definitions of gangs, gang-related crime, and gang members differ widely.

Recommended Reading: Police responses to gangs - a multi-site study (Katz et al 2003)

A "Gang"

This is not to discuss the definition of a gang, in over 100 years of definitions a consensus on one definition has yet to have been established.

Would we really care if kids joined gangs if gangs did not engage in criminal activity? Probably not; in fact, some positive gang values (group cohesiveness, loyalty, respect, discipline, etc) are encouraged to a large extent in legitimate activities.

We can become over reliant on assigning the gang label to groups based on criminal behaviour; however, many gangs do not engage solely in criminal acts – but it is criminal gangs that we are concerned with.

In taking this approach we have to recognise that application of the gang label, as either a term applied to describe the problem of violence in urban areas or when posed in a circular manner as an explanation of it (violence occurs because of the gangs), will not advance our understanding, but may misrepresent current problems.

Problems of street violence should not be reduced to the gang. The street reality is far more fluid, volatile and amorphous. If you begin the assumption that the gang is at the heart of the violence you want to explain, then invariably you will find that gang suppression is the solution to the problem, even if there is an excess to the violence which is not gang related.

Criminal gangs exist in low-income areas where there are close relationships between adolescents and adult criminals. Conflict involving gangs develop in communities with dilapidated conditions and transient populations. When criminal opportunities do not exist, gangs fight to gain social status and protect their integrity. Networks of gang members can remain in existence even after individuals leave gangs because they are tied by friendship, area allegiance and other social relations. The gang is a continuous flux and flow with constantly shifting internal alliances, membership and participatory structures.

Gangs usually operate in a given area because that location is the only place they are strong enough to feel secure and in control, not because that particular territory is fundamental to their self-definition. This is not to say groups do not create an organisational identity using a geographic area yet they are prepared to occupy as much geographic space as they are capable of occupying and they can extend over large areas and boundaries and in some cases relocate under suppression.

Often the motives behind violence involving gangs have little to do with the gang itself and more to do with individuals and their interpersonal disputes. Herein lays the issue of identifying who is a gang member?

Recommended Reading: Youth gang definitional issues, when is a gang a gang and why does it matter? (Esbensen et al 2001)

A "Gang Member"

Gang members spend most of their time in engaging in exaggerated versions of typical adolescent behaviour (rebelling against authority, disobeying parents, wearing clothing and listening to music that sets them apart from most adults, and having a primary allegiance to a group). Only a fraction of their time is dedicated to gang activity. Gang life is a very dull life. For the most part, gang members do very little—sleep, get up late, hang around, brag a lot, eat again, drink, hang around some more.

According to Home Office research, drug and weapons offences are activities engaged in by less than 20% of self-defined gang members.

Research suggests gang members are significantly more likely to hold pro-delinquent views and engage in more delinquent behaviour than non-gang members. Research indicates that gang membership facilitates criminal behaviour showing that involvement in criminal activity increases significantly when young people join gangs and decreases when they leave.

Evidence also shows that most gang members are extremely sharp. Ironically, it is precisely their ‘cognitive competence’ in creating business ventures and eluding the authorities that has made it difficult to eradicate them. Because gang members are intelligent and competent, they have proved stubborn adversaries to the various institutions that have attempted to eliminate them as social problems.

The strongest predictors of sustained gang affiliation were a high level of interaction with antisocial peers and a low level of interaction with pro-social peers. Association with delinquent peers is one of the strongest predictors (that is, risk factors) of gang membership.

While recognising the relevance of group dynamics to offending, it is important that police activity tackles the criminality associated with gang membership and not gang or peer group membership per se. The risk of criminalising youth involvement in collectives of various kinds is that those young people who may only be on the fringes of criminal activity will be alienated and thereby propelled further into genuine criminality. Moreover, tailoring interventions to address behaviour rather than affiliation provides greater scope for community support for police action, especially in areas in which gang membership is integral to community life.

We must be able to identify and recognise gang members who criss-cross borough boundaries at will and who may show up at citywide events (such as carnivals, clubs and music festivals). Increased mobility of gang members requires that police and partner agencies strongly consider cross-border collaboration, particularly whereby rivalries and alliances extend into neighbouring areas.

One area of concern is related to the amount of discretion that law enforcement officials have in documenting gang-related phenomena. Some have suggested that police officials often act in an arbitrary manner when documenting an individual as a gang member. This has resulted in a number of individuals being unfairly labelled as gang members. Individuals are often documented solely as a consequence of the neighbourhood in which they live, their relationship with a documented gang member, or their style of dress.

Recommended Reading: The validity of police gang intelligence lists (Katz et al 2000)
A "Gang-Related" Crime

Firstly, many crimes that characterise the culture go unreported. Secondly, the fear that is created and permeates the culture in question cannot be represented in crime statistics; crucially, it is this aspect of the culture that can act as a dominant influence in the decision of a young person to carry a weapon.

Many offences whereby young people, particularly from minority communities, engage in serious violence are corralled into descriptive such as ‘gang wars’ or ‘gang culture’ therefore misrepresenting a complex, multi-layered situation. Invoking the term gang adds little to our understanding or violent street life though it certainly obscures its complexities.

The risk of taking a beating by straying outside your local area has a long history in working class areas that reaches back well beyond the current fascination with territorial conflict. The reality is that disenfranchised young people dwell in a world where violence (threat and actual) is never far away.

Analysis of the documented gang members’ arrest records indicated that whereas documented youth were infrequently arrested for major crimes such as homicide, rape, or arson, they were frequently arrested for other crimes such as burglary and personal robbery. Documented gang members were typically arrested for misdemeanour's assault, burglary, drug violations, as well as minor other notifiable crimes.

The use of the term “gang-related” is inconsistent; often we classify an incident as gang related simply because the individual involved is a gang member.

Part of the difficulty lies in separating those acts carried out by the individual member from those carried out collectively. It is impossible to identify separately incidents committed by an individual gang member from those committed by the gang. The issue is more important because really to understand the extent of gang related crime and violence we have to determine whether the crime is actually ‘gang-related’.

Not all violence committed by gang members is gang related. Violence may be committed by gang members, but it is not gang related if it is not enacted as part of a gang’s effort to further its own achievements, productivity and objectives. Another important finding is that delinquency and involvement in crime precedes gang membership.

With little income to buy flashy clothes and other consumer goods advertised throughout our society, a poor minority youth may find the “illegitimate opportunities” available through gangs, crime and drug sales more compelling than the legitimate options available to them. In focussing on the most serious criminality, it is also important to recognise that much of this is likely to occur spontaneously and as a result of disputes over personal issues and matters of respect rather than in the context of organised, acquisitive or drug-related crime.

Recommended Reading: Issues in the production and dissemination of gang statistics (Charles M. Katz 2003)

Dealing with gangs, gang members and gang crime


Prevention should be heavily emphasised in any strategy addressing youth gangs, yet it is probably the most neglected type of intervention. We have to figure out a way to reach youths before they get involved with gangs.

Prevention programmes have the broadest audience of interest although are typically aimed at the wider youth population. Prevention programmes can be focussed to specific environments (certain pre-schools, primary schools, geographic areas); the typical goal is to reduce future gang membership amongst young people regardless.

Gang prevention programs have been rare. They require accurate knowledge of the predictors of gang membership, that is, identifying likely gang members, and they require knowledge of the causes of gangs and gang membership. Finally, they require knowledge of the likely impact of prevention efforts.

  • General prevention efforts that target the entire adolescent population may prove beneficial in reducing youth gang involvement.
  • Prevention focusses on the entire population at risk and the identification of those conditions (personal, social, environmental) that promote criminal behaviour

  • Prevention programmes fail to attend to individuals already in gangs
  • Even if well implemented they may have no effect on the gang problem
There is a general lack of consensus about why gangs emerge and why youths join gangs. Therefore, it is more difficult to develop gang prevention programs and assess their impact


Chicago Area Project

The Chicago Area Project (CAP) created in 1934 (and still in operation), was designed to implement social disorganisation theories, which suggested that community organisation could be a major tool for reducing crime and gang problems. CAP was designed to involve local community groups, that is, indigenous community organisations, in improving neighbourhood conditions that were believed to foster the formation of youth groups. Its intent was to prevent delinquency, including gang activity, through neighbourhood and community development. CAP organised community residents through self-help committees based in pre-existing community structures such as church groups and labour unions. It was believed that the cause of maladaptive behaviour was the social environment, not the individual. CAP and other similar programs are, at least in part, primary prevention efforts that target all adolescents in the neighbourhood. CAP introduced its detached worker program, which focused on either at-risk youth or, in some instances, current gang members. It recruited community members to help develop recreational activities and community improvement campaigns (e.g., health care, sanitation, education). These individuals worked with specific neighbourhood gangs and served as advocates for gang members. This included advocating for gang members when they were confronted by the justice system and helping them find employment, health care, and educational assistance, among other services. The intent of the detached worker program was to transform the gang from an antisocial youth group to a pro-social group.

Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.)

This school-based programme begun in 1991 to provide students with real tools to resist the lure and trap of gangs. The 9-week G.R.E.A.T. programme introduces students to conflict resolution skills, cultural sensitivity, and the negative aspects of gang life. G.R.E.A.T. has spread throughout the country; to date, it has been incorporated in school curriculum’s in all 50 States and several other countries. The objectives of the G.R.E.A.T. program are “to reduce gang activity and to educate a population of young people as to the consequences of gang involvement”. The curriculum consists of nine lessons offered once a week to middle school students (primarily seventh graders). Law enforcement officers (who always teach the program) are given detailed lesson plans that clearly state the purposes and objectives of the curriculum. The programme consists of the following nine lessons: introduction; crime, victims, and your rights; cultural sensitivity and prejudice; conflict resolution (two lessons: discussion and practical exercises); meeting basic needs; drugs and neighbourhoods; responsibility; and goal setting. The curriculum includes a discussion about gangs and their effects on the quality of people’s lives and addresses the topic of resisting peer pressure.

Evaluations have reported small but positive effects on students’ attitudes and their ability to resist peer pressure. Students in the G.R.E.A.T. program had a “slightly increased ability” to resist the pressures to join gangs. The G.R.E.A.T. students self-reported less delinquency and had lower levels of gang affiliation, higher levels of school commitment, and greater commitment to pro-social peers, among other positive outcomes. As evidenced by the curriculum, the intent of the G.R.E.A.T. program is to provide life skills that empower adolescents with the ability to resist peer pressure to join gangs. The strategy is a cognitive approach that seeks to produce a change in attitude and behaviour through instruction, discussion, and role-playing. Another notable feature of the program is its target population. In contrast to suppression and intervention programs, which are directed at youth who already are gang members, G.R.E.A.T. is intended for all youth. This is the classic, broad-based primary prevention strategy found in medical immunisation programs: They intervene broadly, with a simple and relatively un-intrusive program, well before any problem is detectable and without any attempt to predict who is most likely to be affected by the problem.

Recommended Reading: Preventing adolescent gang involvement (Finn-Aage Esbensen 2000)


Intervention strategies typically address individuals or places that have manifested some problem; that is, the situation has progressed past risk. In most cases, such programmes attempt to persuade gang members or gang-affiliated youth to abandon their current lifestyle or to reduce gang-related crime.

At this stage, defining the type of gang of interest, the level of individual involvement in the gang, as well as the specific problem of focus becomes extremely important and integral to any success. Intervention programs may include such tactics as a gang truce or the use of detached workers to persuade gang members to leave gang life and reintegrate into the community. Programmes that seek to intervene in the lives of gang-affiliated youth should also be encouraged. Secondary prevention targets those individuals who have been identified as being at greater risk of becoming delinquent.

  • If successful can help young people exit gangs, more success noted with fringe members and youths at-risk of delinquency than actual gang members
  • Potentially can reduce the number of incidents during operational hours (activity based interventions)

  • Simply increasing resources for police and human service programmes is not an effective strategy for dealing with youth gangs
  • Intervention strategies that provide positive alternatives to gang affiliation for youths already in gangs ignore the steady supply of new gang members and the social conditions that breed susceptibility
  • Without financially viable exits it may not be possible to urge members to exit


The Neutral Zone (Washington state)

Offers youths at-risk of joining a gang or already gang-affiliated an attractive and safe alternative for productively spending their time. A late evening programme offering viable recreational and social service activities to 190 youths on Friday and Saturday nights (10PM-2AM), including projects which attempted to enhance youth’s job skills and general socialisation with appropriate adult role models. The programme was located in a local school and provided a wide range of activities (basketball, music, movies) and free food, counselling, and other essential services (job preparation). The main goal was to provide consistency and discipline, to act as role models for the youths, to let kids know they have value and self-worth, to be a safe house and to teach new skills. Evaluations of the scheme showed a reduction in police calls for service during operational hours and the anecdotal and qualitative analysis was very encouraging. However, there was no data on effects on the number of gang members or gang related crimes.

Community Organisation

Should the community view physical surroundings as conducive to gang behaviour programmes may be designed to physically restore neighbourhoods from the effect of gang activity (i.e. appearance, graffiti cleansing). Urban communities should also aim to re-establish strong neighbourhood based centres and programmes to tie the residents together in the pursuit of common concerns. To rebuild a sense of community and collective responsibility.

Social Intervention

Involves traditional social work techniques whereby detached social workers actively work within neighbourhoods to help gang members and at-risk youths find favourable alternatives to gang involvement (this can include mentoring programmes, activity centres, post-sentence social services, drug treatment programmes).

Provision of opportunities

Job preparation, training and placement can assist individuals involved in gangs to modify their lifestyles and become productive community members. Implicit is the idea that many gang members engage in illegal activity because they do not have access to legitimate opportunities and instead seek illegitimate opportunities to attain material goods.

Scholarship in Escrow (Ohio)

Partnership between schools and representatives of the private sector. The programme essentially creates a trust fund for all students enrolled in public secondary schools and credits each of their accounts with $10 for every C, $20 for every B, and $40 for every A earned in school. The money goes into a scholarship fund, where it earns interest. Each student earning money for grades receives a certificate indicating the amount earned. Students who graduate from public schools have up to eight years to use their scholarship monies at college or technical school. The programme is based on the rationales that if wealthy families can create trust funds for the future of their children why cannot we as a society create trust funds for all kids? And since their future income will be highly correlated with their educational achievement, why not pay kids for doing well in school now, as an intermediate reinforcement? The scheme increased overall attainment levels and numbers of graduates, also increased number of graduates who went on to further education. Long term reductions in number of youths involved in criminal gangs.


Gang suppression and enforcement activities are those most likely to capture the imaginations of the public and media as well as that of police officers looking for action on the streets. Suppression activities communicate to the public that their police department is taking the local gang problem seriously.

Traditionally, suppression has been the favoured police approach aimed at arresting and locking up gang members, familiarising police officers with gang members and keeping them under surveillance and deterring fringe members from engaging in gang activities. Suppressive law enforcement strategies cannot alone effectively deal with the gang problems because of the process of development which different age groups within gangs undergo.

Generally suppression involves the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of gang members. It is often the primary strategy in many areas and is also frequently viewed as the least effective. Gang members have an intense dislike for police officers who use unnecessary “strong-arm” tactics in making arrests or questioning them. Gang members as a result feel nothing but anger and vengefulness when a police officer behaves unprofessionally and will seize any subsequent opportunity to get even.

As with intervention programs the success hinges on developing a plan based on a problem analysis to understand the gang problem within a geographical area. For complex problems such as gang violence, a deep understanding of the nature of the problem is crucial in framing appropriate responses.

Criminally active gang members, who have ongoing disputes with rival gangs are often central to the bulk of the problem therefore identifying the right members to focus on is also crucial. However, this is also problematic due to the spontaneous nature of “gang violence”.

  • Aggressive bail and curfew enforcement can reduce the presence of gangs during periods of operation

  • Fringe gang members who are targeted by police may become formally identified as gang members and, as a result, engage in crime as a consequence of the labelling
  • Sweeps of gang areas to arrest / observe gang members can result in increased resident alienation from the police
  • Removal of key gang leaders can create a leadership vacuum and unpredictable increasingly violent responses from would-be leaders trying to fill the top spots
  • Police crackdowns are unlikely to curtail rising youth violence and gang activity
  • Often effective initially and have a short residual deterrent effect and then followed by an eventual return to pre-intervention levels of crime
  • Efforts to deter and disrupt can increase the internal cohesiveness of the group
  • Little effect on reducing, managing or suppressing gangs
  • Little effect on number of crimes reported to the police
  • Does not affect gang membership or the conditions that create gangs


Lowell’s “Safety First” (Boston Operation Ceasefire tailored to a smaller city)

The new task for the group was to focus its combined powers tightly on the small number of gangs and gang members who generated the bulk of Lowell’s serious violence problem. Key members of the working group included the LPD, Middlesex County prosecutors, federal prosecutors, ATF agents, probation officers, parole officers, and Department of Youth Services (DYS, or juvenile corrections in Massachusetts) caseworkers as well as city-employed street-workers (social service providers that worked on the street instead of in an office), YMCA/YWCA and Big Brother/Big Sisters programs, and selected neighbourhood-based groups when the working group was addressing gang violence concentrated in their community. The working group engaged the “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategy that involved deterring violent behaviour by chronic gang offenders by reaching out directly to gangs, saying explicitly that violence would no longer be tolerated, and backing that message by “pulling every lever” legally available when violence occurred.

Lowell gangs were not subjected to increased law enforcement attention arbitrarily nor did the working group develop a “hit list” of gangs. Rather, enforcement actions by the working group were triggered by outbreaks of gang violence. As was the case in Boston, Lowell gangs selected themselves for focussed law enforcement attention by engaging in violence. When gang violence occurred, working group members sent a direct message to violent gang members that they were “under the microscope” because of their violent behaviour. Police officers, probation officers, and DYS caseworkers immediately flooded the targeted gang’s turf and communicated to gang members that their presence was due to the violence. Street workers walked the streets and explained that they wanted the violence to stop and supported the efforts of their law enforcement counterparts to cease the violence. Street workers also made offers of services and opportunities to gang members. As operations focused on particular gangs unfolded, members of the working group assessed the enforcement levers available to cease violent gang activity.

Enforcement responses were tailored to particular gangs and often included a wide range of actions such as probation checks, changes in community supervision conditions, serving outstanding arrest warrants, special prosecutorial attention to crimes committed by violent gang members, increased disorder enforcement, and the disruption of street-level drug markets. Building on the Boston experience, the basic premise of Lowell’s application of pulling levers was to take advantage of the chronic offending behaviours of gang members. It was important to recognize that gang members were vulnerable to a variety of criminal justice sanctions and that targeted enforcement actions could be used to good effect in controlling their violent behaviour. The enforcement actions were only as harsh as necessary to stop a particular gang from engaging in violence. For many gang members, heightened levels of police, probation, and DYS enforcement were sufficient to end the violence. For certain hardcore gang members, it was necessary to involve the enhanced enforcement capabilities of the federal authorities to stop the violence.

Although enforcement actions were carried out, the members of the working group continued communications with violent gang members. A direct and explicit message was delivered to violent gangs that violent behaviour would no longer be tolerated and that the interagency group would use whatever means were legally available to stop the violence. This message was communicated to other gangs not engaged in violence so they would understand what was happening to the violent gang and why it was happening. In addition to talking to gang members on the street, the deterrence message was delivered by handing out fliers explaining the enforcement actions and through forums with gang members. Forums were usually held in a public facility such as a courthouse or community recreational centre. Gang members under criminal justice system supervision were required to attend the forum by their probation or parole officers; gang-involved juveniles under DYS community supervision were required to attend by their caseworkers. Representatives of the different law enforcement agencies explained their actions to the gang members in attendance. Street workers and community members voiced their support of the law enforcement actions, asked the youth to stop the violence, and reiterated their offers of services and opportunities.

The law enforcement members of the larger group also met separately to focus enforcement efforts on “impact players,” or individuals who were particularly dangerous and served as “carriers” of criminal ideas across social networks and whose presence in particular groups facilitated violent action. The criminal justice practitioners felt strongly that within violent gangs, there were a very small number of particularly dangerous youth that did not want social intervention and that needed to be removed from the street to protect themselves and other youth from their violent behaviour. This subgroup of the larger task force believed that identifying and incarcerating these impact players would produce greater crime prevention benefits by focusing scarce law enforcement resources on highly active gang members who spread ideas or facilitated violent action. The identification process was largely based on subjective street intelligence gathered by law enforcement officials interacting closely with gang members.

Civil Gang Injunctions (modified dispersals)

Has resulted in improved perceptions of crime and fear of crime and reductions in violent assaults. Anecdotally, police and public officials claim the tactic is very effective in eliminating gang activity. Yet, relatively little systematic research on the effectiveness of injunctions has been completed. Injunctions addressed “local gang problems with customized provisions based on specific local circumstances” to gather evidence that members of a street gang represent a public nuisance in their neighbourhood. Evidence used to support an injunction includes the criminal history of gang members, written declarations by officers familiar with the neighbourhood, and sometimes, declarations from community members that describe the effects of specific nuisance activities on neighbourhood residents. The prosecutor uses the declarations and other materials to craft the injunction, working with officers to select the gang members to be named, the geographic area to be covered, and the specific behaviours that will be prohibited.

The number of gang members, the size of the area, and the type of prohibited activities varies considerably. The number of gang members can range from a handful to the hundreds, and the initial string of names often is followed by “and any other members”. The targeted area can be a housing complex, several square blocks, or an entire city, but most often CGIs are spatially based, neighbourhood-level interventions intended to disrupt the gang’s routine activities. Prohibited behaviours include illegal activities such as trespass, vandalism, drug selling, and public urination, as well as otherwise legal activities, such as wearing gang colours, displaying hand signs, and carrying a pager or signalling passing cars, behaviours associated with drug selling. Deterrence theory predicts that sure, swift, and severe sanctions will deter criminal behaviour. Although the penalties for injunction violations are not severe, the notifications of hearings and injunction papers might make targeted gang members believe that they are being closely watched and more likely to be apprehended and prosecuted for violations.

Anecdotal evidence suggests CGI in some places have encouraged gang members to pursue educational / employment opportunities whilst social psychological theory suggests that group identity causes individuals to feel less responsible for their behaviour, and influences them to conform to situation-specific group norms. In gangs, situation-specific norms promote violent and antisocial behaviour. A gang injunction holds individuals personally accountable for their actions which could weaken gang identity and decrease levels of participation in gang-related behaviour, especially among non-core members. In this process of holding individuals responsible for their gang activities, identification with the gang might decline, as could the overall gang cohesiveness. Alternatively, if the injunction sends the message that law enforcement is targeting the group rather than individuals, fringe members might react with increased loyalty to fend off the perceived group level threat and gang cohesiveness might increase. Immediate outcomes impact on level of intimidation and the level of fear experienced by residents whilst long term impacts can result in improved neighbourhood social cohesion, informal social control and willingness to call/trust police.

Facilitating between police and gangs (click here)

Since police officers are often charged with cracking down on youth offenders and gangs, relations between many police officers and youths are characterised by mutual hostility, mistrust, misunderstandings and stereotypes. Aggressive and violent tactics used in conflict do not lead to conflict resolution. Instead they produce negative changes in the parties and the communities to which they belong. When tensions escalate between such groups, as police and youth gangs, three dynamics occur that reinforce and intensify the conflict and hostilities: both sides develop enemy images, stereotypes, and misperceptions of one another; communication breaks down; and, strategies for dealing with each other become more confrontational, coercive, and violent. Gangs may mark police officers as targets of violence to gain status and legitimacy with their peers; police departments may respond with "military-like" tactics to control gangs and their illegal activities.

Community policing models and conflict resolution processes offer alternatives for preventing or reducing youth violence and gangs, and police youth antagonisms before they escalate. Community policing is a collaborative effort between police and residents to identify and help solve community problems. It emphasises partnering and problem solving as methods for dealing with violence. In addition, police assigned to work in schools as "resource officers" have an important impact on relations between police and youths.

What are the biggest problems that you have with the police/youths?

• What do you think they think about you? Is this true or not?
• What do you want the police/youths to know about you and your group that you think they do not know?
• What would you like the relationship to be like with the police/youths?
• What does it mean for someone to show respect to you? How do you show respect to others?
• What questions do you have about the law?/What is your basic approach to dealing with youths who are allegedly engaged in illegal activities or gangs?
• Why would you be willing to participate in a dialogue with the police/youths?

Goals of facilitating between police and youths (gangs)

(1) create a better understanding between youths and police officers
(2) reduce tensions and violence in the community
(3) improve relationships
(4) identify common ground
(5) construct joint action projects.

The issues

(1) behaviour and communication during police youth encounters
(2) perceptions of each other
(3) police policies procedures and laws (e.g., stop and search procedures)
(4) individual and community safety on the streets
(5) ways to show respect and fairness

The ground rules included

(1) no discussion of participation in illegal activities or specific police-youth incidents
(2) no use of individual participants' names outside the dialogue
(3) listen without interruption
(4) speak from personal experience (not representing any organisation)
(5) use respectful language
(6) no speeches.

The primary purpose is to establish an environment in which the participants can feel safe to share their experiences and perspectives and fully engage in the dialogue process without worrying about the dialogue escalating out of control. Creating a safe environment is key to encouraging parties to engage.

Issues as Defined by Police and Youths

• How youth and police should act during initial encounters
• How police should deal with youth in gangs
• How youth can cope with violent situations and develop alternatives to violence
• How police can ensure safety in their encounters with youth
• Police policies (e.g., probable cause, search procedures, picture taking)
• Youth gangs, crime and violence
• How laws protect and how laws oppress
• Perceptions of each other
• How to make youth and police feel like they are being respected and treated fairly
• The ideal relationship between police and youth

Police officers’ suggestions to youths

• Cooperate, don't talk back.
• Speak English / Avoid Slang (to avoid suspicion).
• Do as the police request or order.
• Don't threaten the police officer's security in any way (e.g., don't move quickly).
• Don't assume the worst about the police.

Youths' suggestions to police

• Explain what you are doing and why.
• Don't assume gang membership because of clothing style.
• Don't violate privacy by taking pictures without permission.
• Don't violate personal property.
• Don't speak abusively or make threats


Can a civil gang injunction change a community? (Mason et al 2004)
Community-based gang prevention and intervention: An evaluation of the neutral zone (Thurman et al 1996)
Delinquent youth groups and offending behaviour (Home Office 2004)
Dying to belong (Centre for Social Justice)
Facilitating between gangs and police (Carstarpehen and Shipiro 1997)
Five Boroughs Alliance (UCL Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science 2007)
Gang suppression through saturation patrol, aggressive curfew and truancy enforcement (Fritsch et al 1999)
Gang talk and gang talkers: A critique (Hallsworth & Young 2008)
Gangs and social change (Martin Sanchez-Jankowski 2003)
Guide to addressing community gang problems: A Practical Guide (click here)
Issues in the production and dissemination of gang statistics (Charles M. Katz 2003)
Police responses to gangs - a multi-site study (Katz et al 2003)
Preventing adolescent gang involvement (Finn-Aage Esbensen 2000)
Street gangs and preventive interventions (Thompson et al 1988)
The social outcomes of street gang involvement (Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh 2000)
The validity of police gang intelligence lists (Katz et al 2000)
Understanding and preventing gang violence (Braga et al 2006)
Youth gang deinitional issues, when is a gang a gang and why does it matter? (Esbensen et al 2001)
Youth gangs and public policy (C. Ronald Huff)