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Gangs, Weapons and Violence - London Councils

By Samuel Warren,2014-03-28 08:25
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Gangs, Weapons and Violence - London Councils

    Confronting

    London’s Violent Street World:

    The Gang and Beyond

    A Report for London Councils

    Simon Hallsworth and Kim Duffy

    Centre for Social and Evaluation Research

    London Metropolitan University

CONTENTS

    Introduction ..................................................................................................................................................... 4 Structure ...................................................................................................................................................... 4 Methodology ................................................................................................................................................ 5 Section 1: Conceptualising Groups and Group Offending ................................................................................. 5 Gang Myths and Stereotypes ............................................................................................................................ 5 Defining the Gang and Other Groups ............................................................................................................ 6

    The Delinquent Peer Group ...................................................................................................................... 6

    The Gang .................................................................................................................................................. 7

    The Organised Crime Group ...................................................................................................................... 9 Profiling Groups in Relation to Risk ............................................................................................................. 10 Gangs, Weapons and Violence ........................................................................................................................ 11 Gang Violence ............................................................................................................................................ 12 Contexts for Violence.................................................................................................................................. 12 Weapon Use Among Gangs ......................................................................................................................... 13 Weapon Dogs and the Gang........................................................................................................................ 14 Gangs and Sexual Violence.......................................................................................................................... 17 Reviewing the Evidence .................................................................................................................................. 19 Section 2: Rethinking The Focus ..................................................................................................................... 20 From the Gang to the Violent Street Periphery ................................................................................................ 20 Profiling the Core ........................................................................................................................................ 20 Profiling the Periphery ................................................................................................................................ 20 Relations Between the Core and Periphery ................................................................................................. 21

    Mutual support ...................................................................................................................................... 21

    Instrumental relationships ...................................................................................................................... 21

    Exploitative relationships ........................................................................................................................ 22 General Principles of Intervention ................................................................................................................... 22 Identifying What Works .............................................................................................................................. 23 Locating Effort and Allocating Services ........................................................................................................ 23 Local Partnership Working .......................................................................................................................... 25 Intelligence Gathering................................................................................................................................. 26 Inappropriate Interventions ........................................................................................................................ 26 Section 3: Developing and Delivering Interventions ....................................................................................... 27 Developing Good Practices.............................................................................................................................. 27 The Role of London Councils ........................................................................................................................... 28 Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) ............................................................................................................ 29 Contribution of Elected Officials and Lead Officers .......................................................................................... 30

    Representation and Advocacy................................................................................................................. 30

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     Knowledge base and Consultation .......................................................................................................... 31Management and Delivery .......................................................................................................................... 32

    Partnerships and Support ....................................................................................................................... 32

    Reactive Efforts ...................................................................................................................................... 33

    Proactive Efforts ..................................................................................................................................... 33

    Resource Allocation ................................................................................................................................ 34 Confronting the Street Periphery in Practice ................................................................................................... 35 Forms of Interventions................................................................................................................................ 35 General Interventions ................................................................................................................................. 36

    Principles and Aims of Interventions ....................................................................................................... 36

    Modes of Intervention ............................................................................................................................ 36 Targeted Interventions ............................................................................................................................... 38

    Principles and Aims of Interventions ....................................................................................................... 38

    Modes of Interventions .......................................................................................................................... 39

    Community Reassurance .................................................................................................................... 39

    Activating the Community .................................................................................................................. 40

    Neighbourhood Capacity Building ....................................................................................................... 40

    Engagement Programmes................................................................................................................... 40

    Developing Employment Opportunities .............................................................................................. 42

    Conflict Management and Mediation.................................................................................................. 42

    Enforcement Interventions ................................................................................................................. 43

    Exit Strategies .................................................................................................................................... 45

    Reintegration Programmes ................................................................................................................. 45 Endnotes ........................................................................................................................................................ 48 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................................... 59 Appendix A: Intervention Programme Profiles .............................................................................................. A-1 Developing the Profiles .................................................................................................................................. A-1 Programme Profiles ....................................................................................................................................... A-2 Early Intervention ...................................................................................................................................... A-2

    Chance UK ............................................................................................................................................. A-2

    Hanworth Centre - Junior Youth Inclusion Project (JYIP) ......................................................................... A-3

    Outside Chance- - 'You Don't Know Who You're Dealing With!’ .............................................................. A-4 Early Intervention & Gang Related ............................................................................................................. A-5

    Catch 22 - Positive Futures..................................................................................................................... A-5

    LEAP - Confronting Conflict - Fear & Fashion Project: Tackling Knife Crime ............................................. A-6 Gang Related ............................................................................................................................................. A-7

    2XL Programme ..................................................................................................................................... A-7

    Recre8 - Segre8 ..................................................................................................................................... A-8

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     St Giles Trust - SOS Gangs Project .......................................................................................................... A-9

    YES (Youth Engagement Scheme)......................................................................................................... A-10 Gang & Offending Related ....................................................................................................................... A-11 From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation - Calling The Shots ................................................................. A-11 From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation - Day Support Centre ............................................................. A-12 Kids Company ...................................................................................................................................... A-13 Offending Related .................................................................................................................................... A-15 Outside Chance- 'A Career In Crime?' ................................................................................................... A-15

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INTRODUCTION

    1Over the last decade a new ‘folk devil’ has come to prominence in British society. This, the urban

    street gang is believed by many to be the instigator of the most serious violence in the UK today. The threats allegedly posed by this group range from public fears of young people ‘hanging around’ to

    stories of gang rape’, violent territorialism, gun and knife related violence, the use of ‘weapon dogs’ and the importation and distribution of illegal drugs. Cumulatively the impression promoted by the media, politicians and many enforcement agencies, is that structured organised gangs are more prominent today and the offences in which they engage have become more serious.

    Drawing upon recent and relevant research this report explores the ‘gang’ situation as it pertains to

    London. While the report identifies gangs and gang violence as a real threat, the report is nevertheless critical of the way the term ‘gang’ is often used and is particularly critical about attempts to conflate into terms like ‘the gang’ and ‘gang culture’ social problems that need to be addressed in their own right. Whilst confronting gangs remains an important issue, the report argues for an approach which locates intervention effort within a wider appreciation of the violent street periphery where gangs are found. Gangs are certainly part of this world but other groups and criminally involved individuals inhabit this world as well. These, the report argues, need to be understood in their own right and as they intersect together. If the aim of intervention effort is to prevent such violence then effort must address this totality in a measured and proportionate way and not focus on one part of it at the expense of the whole.

    STRUCTURE

    The report begins by briefly profiling the evidential base on which this review is conducted; it then examines some recurrent problems in the way the term ‘gang’ has been popularly used and abused by examining gang myths and stereotypes. A framework for defining gangs and differentiating these from other groups that have some involvement in crime and violence is then developed. This involves distinguishing gangs from delinquent peer groups and both of these groups from more organised crime groups. The following section examines the extent to which serious violence involving the use of weapons in London can be attributed to gangs. As this section shows, gangs are violent by nature and weapons can be used in certain contexts which the report identifies. As this section makes clear, other groups, including volatile individuals who are not in gangs, are also responsible for much of the violence that is being attributed to the gang, while some problems being attributed to the gang turn out, on inspection, not to be gang related.

    The second section draws the implications of this analysis together arguing for an approach to serious violence which looks beyond the gang. Rather than privilege a particular group as the object of intervention, the report argues instead that intervention effort needs to be directed at the spaces where gangs and other groups are located; this constitutes the volatile periphery of a violent street world. A framework for understanding this world is then developed.

    The report concludes by examining the principles that should inform the intervention effort directed to address the violence of the street periphery and profiles a range of interventions that can be mobilised to confront the different risks and dangers peer groups and gangs types of group pose.

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METHODOLOGY

    This report brings together relevant and current research that has been conducted into gangs and

    2other criminal groups in London over the course of the last decade. Substantively, the report draws

    upon four sources of data. First, this report reflects on findings of primary research that the author, along with colleagues from the Centre for Social and Evaluation Research, have conducted into issues

    3. Secondly, this report makes reference to relevant connected with gangs and other criminal groups

    4research that has been conducted into the contemporary gang situation in the United Kingdom.

    Thirdly, this report draws upon a wide body of literature relating to gangs, including a range of

    4academic articles and books. Fourthly, this report utilises findings from interviews conducted for the purposes of this project with a range of professionals and practitioners working with young people in London (see Section 3: Developing and Delivering Interventions and Appendix A: Intervention Programme Profiles).

    SECTION 1: CONCEPTUALISING GROUPS AND GROUP OFFENDING

    GANG MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES

    To understand fully the ‘gangland’ situation in London it is necessary to be able to distinguish fact

    from fiction and evidence from assumptions. This is not always easy in a society where many stereotypes about gangs enjoy wide circulation and where the language used to describe them often

    5dispenses with proportion in favour of an inflated rhetoric. One way to accomplish this task is to

    consider some of the problems that follow from deploying the term ‘gang’ in ways that lack rigour but which are widely used. Another will be to consider some of the stereotypes that have evolved

    6around the gang.

    Let us begin with bad definitions. The most popular but least helpful way of understanding the term ‘gang’ is as a blanket label applied to define any group that is felt to cause trouble to somebody. This is the way in which the media typically operate and this mode of classifying gangs is also widespread among the public at large. The term ‘gang’ applied this way constitutes a universal shorthand to denote a troublesome group. While popular, this approach is neither satisfactory nor useful. Street organisations vary significantly and mobilising the blanket label ‘gang’ to encapsulate them all submerges important differences that need to be recognised. A group of eleven year old lads ‘hanging around’, for example, is very different from an armed, territorially affiliated group of

    eighteen year olds looking for trouble; and this differs in turn from a group of adult criminals planning a heist. Calling all these groups ‘gangs’ is not helpful and works against producing a definition fit for purpose.

    If we consider further the mythology that surrounds the gang then this often derives less from the dangers posed by the gang and more from stereotypical images that people hold which are then projected upon them. Though often a problem of inner urban life, the gang today is imagined as essentially new and this is accompanied by the perception that gangs are proliferating. This view is often accompanied by the notion that the gang is moving from a state of disorganisation to one of progressive organisation. It may, for example, be claiming new territory which its members then coercively control or be expanding its membership base by ‘grooming’ or ‘recruiting’ new members who are then brutally exploited. Rather than understand the gang for what it often is, a disorganised

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    street group, many impose upon the gang an organisational form and command structure few ‘gangs’ in fact possess. In effect, the gang and the street world it inhabits becomes corporatised: invested, that is, with a complex division of labour and a command structure that resembles that of a

    7. While gangs often have a diverse membership, they are typically identified corporation or an army

    in the public mind with minority ethnic groups.

    While gangs certainly exist, it is often the case that their actuality and prevalence is exaggerated and in many cases the perceived presence of a gang occurs because people elect to define a group as

    2such. As we found in the course of conducting interviews with young people (many of whom had

    been classified as gang affiliated by practitioners) most did not define themselves as gang members.

    It is also worth noting that the language practitioners use to describe what gangs are and what they do (they ‘groom’ and ‘recruit’, they have members with names like ‘wanabees’) reflects the language

    of control, not the gangland realities through which these young people live out their day-to-day lives. The point here is that the language used by practitioners to represent gang life and the way it is experienced by those who live ‘gang’ lives are sometimes two very different things.

    The lesson to derive from this section is that if we want to talk about gangs we need to do so appropriately and accurately. In practice this means not falling into the pitfalls of ‘gang talk’ outlined

    4above. It means knowing how to distinguish stereotypes and myths from an often very different, street reality. It means maintaining a sense of proportion in a context where this is not evident and recognising that effective policy must be evidence-based.

    DEFINING THE GANG AND OTHER GROUPS

    8The extensive American gang research literature shows that gangs possess many different features.

    They are typically durable; they may have a leader and some division of labour within them. They often have a name by which they know themselves and by which they are known by others. Many lay claim to a territory which they attempt to control. Their members may adopt particular stylistic features that distinguish them from other groups, such as wearing colours. Gang members may develop a subculture which has its own language and which is defined by the performance of specific rituals. Finally, the life of the group may also involve engaging in violence and crime of various descriptions.

    This begs the question as to which of these factors constitute the basic building block out of which we might want to construct a definition of the gang as it is found in the London context. The answer to this question is that we need to highlight core factors. Given the fact that the gang is not the only type of group in London that is responsible for committing crime and violence, it is not enough to profile the gang alone. This also needs to be accompanied by an analysis of other street and criminally inclined groups as well. In what follows, three kinds of collective which have some

    9engagement in crime and violence are identified. These can be termed respectively the ‘peer group’,

    the ‘gang’ and the ‘organised crime group’. Each borough is likely to have variants of each of these

    groups, though the most violent and dangerous will typically be found in the poorer boroughs. THE DELINQUENT PEER GROUP

    The delinquent peer group is composed of friends and associates who are known to each other because they share the same space (school or neighbourhood) along with a common history and biography (they have grown up together and have shared the same experiences). Delinquency and

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    criminal activity is not integral to the identity or practice of the peer group or its members but can occur in given contexts in some peer groups, specifically in public spaces where they are most visible.

    The peer group is the most pervasive form of social group found in European societies. Peer groups exist among all socio-economic groups and both young people and old, male and female, will find themselves members of one or more of them. Most peer groups have no involvement in crime and violence and people do not belong to them for this purpose. Through involvement in peer groups people live out their lives as social beings. In them they find comradeship, they pass the time of day, seek mutual support and avoid feeling isolated and alone. For the most part people do not join such groups, they spontaneously form.

    While generally benevolent, some peer groups (particularly those populated by young people) may find themselves engaged in anti social behaviour and sometimes violence. In the British situation this may involve binge drinking, fighting, smoking, and low level drug use. Street robbery is also predominantly perpetrated by such groups and this is most likely to occur in poor inner city areas. Some groups may also become involved in fights with others and, because many also wear a ‘street uniform’ and have a pronounced public visibility, they regularly induce fear into adults who often

    imagine they are gangs. These are not gangs however nor should they be labelled as such because crime and violence is not integral to group identity as it is in the case of a gang. Members of peer groups may drift intermittently into some anti social behaviour and crime but most of those who do

    10will also drift out of it as they complete their transition from childhood to adulthood. While most

    peer group engagement with anti social behaviour is trivial and episodic, peer groups can be volatile and such behaviour can escalate to that which is risky and harmful. It is when this occurs on an ongoing basis that the peer group can become a gang.

    THE GANG

    The gang can be defined as a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of people who see themselves (and are recognised by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is intrinsic to the identity and practice of the group.

    The minimal characteristic features of the gang are that it has: a) a name; b) a propensity to inflict violence and engage in crime and c) violence and delinquency perform a functional role in promoting group identity and solidarity. While the presence of an organisational structure, a defined leader, group rituals and a definable territory claimed by the groups as its own are also characteristic features of some gangs, these are supplementary features not essential defining characteristics of all gangs. Whilst the organisation, ethos and structure of the gang differ from that of peer groups, the

    11gang is a derivative and mutation of it.

    Though there are examples of girl gangs in the USA such groups are relatively rare and gangs are predominantly male dominated groups with which women are associated. In the UK there are very

    12few female gangs though female peer groups are often being mistaken for them. The age range for

    gang membership lies between early teens and the early twenties. Ethnically, the gang is likely to reflect the ethnic demographic of the estates where it is found; in this sense it is not confined to one particular ethnic group. In London, where minority ethnic groups are over-represented in many of London’s poorest boroughs, the gang structure typically reflects this demographic.

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    As John Pitts observes, it is in areas subject to concentrated disadvantage that gangs are typically

    13found. These are areas where long term structural unemployment is high as are other indices of deprivation like poor housing, rates of poverty and benefit claimants. While most young people from deprived backgrounds do not join gangs and aspire to enter the formal labour market by obtaining qualifications, not all succeed. For those who are not bequeathed good opportunities in life engaging in the illegal economy may provide an alternative means by which socially desirable goods can be obtained. Gangs also provide spaces where structurally powerless men may accumulate a reputation and by so doing achieve status in a social world where they otherwise find little.

    According to the few UK surveys that have been undertaken to establish gang prevalence within the population, the number of people who meet the academic criteria for being defined as a gang member is relatively low and usually comprises between 3-6% of the sample group. These kinds of survey are often conducted on high risk groups in high crime areas and tend to overstate the degree

    14of membership in the wider population.

    Like the peer group, gang members come together because they typically share a common history and biography and because they live in the same neighbourhood or estate. Some people may ‘join’ a gang, but most will spontaneously form in the same manner as a peer group. Like the peer group the gang also acts as a space where excitement may be generated and the mundane boredom of

    15everyday life temporarily transcended. Like the peer group the gang offers its members the security

    of belonging, a place where friendships are established and where reputations can be made and tested. Indeed, for most of its existence, the gang functions like - and is indistinguishable from - street-based peer groups who ‘hang around’.

    Where the peer group and the gang are distinguished from one another is in the role and status that crime and particularly violence plays within the group. Whereas in the peer groups violence is something that sometimes happens, in the case of gangs a propensity for violence is intrinsic to the group and its identity. This could be because the men within the group are themselves violent; it is also the case that the group actively search out opportunities to be violent.

    While the American stereotype of the gang points towards a group with many members, a complex division of labour and a command structure located in a central hierarchy populated by leaders and lieutenants, this model does not apply in the case of London or indeed the UK as a whole. This does

    16not mean to say that the members of some gangs do not allocate themselves different roles.

    However, rather than understanding organisational structure by reference to the division of labour a gang may claim, it is more accurate to understand its organisation as characterised by relations of domination and competition between members. In this sense the gang typically exhibits more pack-like behaviours than those found in formal bureaucracies. Dominant figures are dominant, for example, not because they have more qualifications or have obtained an elevated position through interview, they are dominant because they are more ruthless and ‘hard’ than less dominant

    members. Status within the group however only exists for as long as it can be defended from status challenges. As such reputation and honour can never be presumed but have to be continuously demonstrated and reaffirmed. This makes most gangs highly volatile and unstable entities. The lesson to take from this is that it is rarely the coherence of the group that makes it dangerous; it is rather precisely its volatility and the volatility of its members that lead to lethal outcomes such as

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    stabbings and shootings. Social disorganisation as opposed to corporate organisation defines the way

    17most London gangs are organised.

    Gang life for most gang members is a very insular and parochial space where small insults and disagreements over status and respect can assume a significance and command a response literally inconceivable to those who are not part of this often institutionally disconnected world. The volatility of the gang is compounded by the fact that a number of gang affiliated men are psychologically

    18unstable. Many have long and complex histories of violence and violent victimisation and a

    19significant number derive from chaotic family backgrounds.

    Finally, life is volatile because street life is itself often chaotic in the sense that things suddenly happen that involve violence or which demand a violent response. It could be, for example, that a gang member is found by another gang away from his territory and is beaten up. In the name of collective honour one gang may retaliate against another or proxies for it in what can quickly become a vendetta. It could simply be that someone looked at someone the ‘wrong way’ and such disrespect had to be addressed violently in the name of street justice. ‘Beef’, to use the colloquial street term for conflict, can be provoked for many perceived and actual slights. Unfortunately, among the more volatile gangs in London, weapons are also used.

    THE ORGANISED CRIME GROUP

    The organised crime group is composed of men for whom involvement in criminal behaviour is intrinsic to their identity and practice and for whom such involvement is their purpose and justification. These are not boys nor would they typically define themselves as a street-based gang. These are professionals who ‘do the business’ where the business of crime is an occupation.

    In economic terms, it is organised crime groups that exercise disproportionate control over the illegal means and forces of crime production. These are populated by professional criminals who typically occupy the core of the criminal underworld while the gang, along with volatile peer groups and various individuals, comprise the periphery.

    Many of the organised crime groups in London are family based criminal firms and it is familial

    20association that provides the bedrock of trust and loyalty between members. Ethnicity may also

    provide another axis around which membership may be based. Other criminals who are not family may be affiliated to these groups directly or through networks, but these are often close friends with whom family members grow up, or people who have mastered particular criminal skills and can be trusted. It could be noted that the family unit is the oldest and most traditional form of organised crime group. It persists because blood relations remain the strongest unit out of which trust is formed and trust is a crucial currency in illegal contexts.

    The family firm is not the only form of organised crime group. Professional criminals may work together specialising in a particular criminal enterprise like commercial burglary. Membership in this sense occurs because these men have grown up together (sometimes being part of the same gang in their earlier life), or alternatively they have met through their involvement in various criminal networks including prison. Many possess key criminal skills; they may have an established reputation

    21for being good at their job; and importantly, they also have a reputation for being trustworthy.

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