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

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Frontline London: Gangbuster - 'It's not enough to lock people up... we offer them a way out'

EVENING STANDARD, Author David Cohen

Exclusive interview: Cdr Steve Rodhouse talks to David Cohen and Ian Walker

Game plan: Commander Steve Rodhouse aims to balance enforcement with prevention

Published: 26 September 2013

Tackling London’s 250 gangs, from violent street-level gangs to organised crime, is now the Metropolitan Police’s number one priority and this new urgency and focus has begun to have an impact on reducing violent crime. So said Commander Steve Rodhouse, the Met’s head of gangs and organised crime and charged by Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe 18 months ago with the responsibility to “up the Met’s game concerning gangs in London”.

Speaking exclusively to the Evening Standard at New Scotland Yard and giving his first newspaper interview in a year, Mr Rodhouse said the research by University College London about Londoners growing up with shootings, stabbings and murder as “the norm” (as published in yesterday’s Standard) came as “no surprise”.

“We are very much aware that there is a cohort of people growing up in London for whom extreme violence is normalised because of what they have seen,” he said. “It is also unsurprising that many of these young people, perhaps let down by their families and other institutions, turn to gangs as a sort of surrogate family. Gangs are responsible for half of all shootings and a quarter of serious violent crime. It was very much the Commissioner’s thing when he came in two years ago that we need to tackle gangs as our top priority and that by doing so, we would make a dent in wider criminality.”

But taking on the gangs has required the Met to directly address its past failure to grasp a problem that has bedeviled London for a decade. Part of the issue, said Mr Rodhouse, who wove a fine line between not criticising his predecessors yet being frank about the failed strategy of the past, had been the attitude of denial by the Met towards gangs.

“We have completely changed the language of the Met around gangs and that is really helpful, because until you acknowledge a problem, until you stop hiding it away, you’re not going to be able to resolve it,” he said. It is instructive that prior to 2007, teenage homicides were not even collated by the police, despite the fact that they had been a highly visible problem since 2001. A Freedom of Information request revealed that 95 teenagers were murdered in the six years from 2001-6, as compared to 124 in the seven years since. Clearly, he added, the London riots in 2011 helped focus minds in the Home Office that gangs cannot be ignored.

In order to deliver, the Met reorganised itself by widening the remit of Trident from gun-enabled homicides to gangs. The establishment of Trident Gang Crime Command meant that 1,000 Trident officers were deployed to tackle stabbings, responsible for two-thirds of the teenage homicides since 2007 and a high proportion of gang crime, and not just shootings as before, which account for barely a fifth of deaths. In a stroke, this “centralised and brought consistency to the fight against gangs” which until then had been “inconsistent and erratic on a borough by borough” basis, he said.

So with 500 Trident officers deployed centrally and another 500 in the worst 18 boroughs, are we any nearer to declaring victory over the gang problem than we were six years ago when 26 teenage murders in a single year forced this issue up the agenda?

“We have made a good start, but it is too early to claim victory,” said Mr Rodhouse. He pointed to a 28 per cent reduction in stabbings of under-25s and a 20 per cent fall in gun crime in the 12 months to April, the first full year under his watch and the most significant decline in youth knife violence since 2009.

Of the 250 gangs known to the Met, 54 have been the most active, accounting for two-thirds of gang crime. There are about 3,500 gang members identified by the police across London, of whom 1,000 are in prison, tagged or on probation.

But there was also an acknowledgement, he added, that more enlightened preventative strategies were needed to eradicate gangs and that ultimately “you only suppress the problem through enforcement”.

Mr Rodhouse, 42, who lives with his family in Surrey, said: “We recognise that you don’t tackle gangs just by locking people up and that a wide array of overt and covert preventative strategies are needed. Our approach is to identify the most harmful individuals and gangs and offer them a way out, making it clear that if they don’t we will fully enforce the law.

“Having kids myself, I appreciate the life chances they have versus the challenges these gang members face. It makes total sense that our game plan now is to balance enforcement with prevention.”

How successful has diversion been? So far 55 gang members, he said, have been re-housed with their families through their Safe and Secure scheme, run by the Met’s charity, the Safer London Foundation. They are asked to sever ties with their former life and in return are given mentors, job training, counselling and a new start.

“One former gang member from Newham is now a stockbroker. Some are quite entrepreneurial and can do well with the right help. Lots of groups have failed to protect these people before they come into our hands, including parents, schools, social workers, and health visitors. An exit route is preferable because we can transform the problem rather than suppress it. No gang prevention strategy has ever worked anywhere unless you get people into a job and help make them economically viable.”

The Met has taken its pro-active strategies to 800 youth engagement events in 18 months, reaching 22,000 young people. There is no “single worst borough” in London when it comes to gangs, he said, though Lambeth, Southwark and Hackney were consistently up there as among the worst affected.

Does he have a message to ordinary Londoners? “That tackling gangs is a long-term challenge, that it is the responsibility of London as a whole, and that the police on their own cannot resolve this problem. Londoners can help by making it clear that gang violence in their community is not supported, by coming forward as witnesses and by being active in helping transform crime hotspots into opportunity zones.”

He cautioned against quick fixes. “This is a deep societal problem and cannot be solved overnight. We welcome the light the Standard is shedding on an area that concerns us all and are proud of the progress we have made, but if in five years we have reduced gang crime even further, maybe then we can talk about this being a turning point and a successful model. Right now, we power on, but it’s too early to say.”
The facts

3,500 - gang members in London identified by the police, belonging to around 250 gangs

1,000 - Trident police officers charged with tackling gangs

54 - highly active gangs responsible for two-thirds of gang-related crime

28% - decline in stabbings of people under 25 in the year to April, from 1,905 offences to 1,380

20% - fall in gun discharges in the year to April, from 496 to 397

55 - gang members whose families have been given a fresh start and re-housed as part of the Met’s Safe and Secure scheme

2,800 - gang members arrested and charged by the police in the last year

124 - teenage murders in London since January 2007, of which 80 were stabbings, 25 were shootings and 19 assault, arson or other

4,968 - serious youth violence offences (including stabbings and shootings) in the year to April, down by 28% from the previous year

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