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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Ending gang violence and exploitation

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Street gangs are becoming less visible in public, and more fluid in the way they organise. A key gang tactic is to exploit vulnerable people, but this problem is often hidden. This change is one of the main drivers behind this Home Office document which prioritises both reducing gang related violence and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs by setting six new priorities.

Changes in the way gangs operate

The Home Office has just (13 January 2016) published its refreshed gangs strategy: “Ending gang violence and exploitation”.

The strategy is particularly focused on the 52 local areas in which the Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV) programme operates. The aim of the EGYV programme has been to reduce violence, and to achieve this through supporting a change in the way that public services respond to gang and youth violence.

EGYV has generated a greater understanding of the way in which gangs operate and the way in which they are adapting to try to combat law enforcement efforts to close them down.

Street gangs are becoming less visible in public, and more fluid in the way they organise. A key gang tactic is to exploit vulnerable people, but this problem is often hidden. This change is one of the main drivers behind this Home Office document which prioritises both reducing gang related violence and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs by setting six new priorities.

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Six new priorities

All six priorities require a continuing multi-agency response and are described briefly in turn below.

1: Tackle county lines – the exploitation of vulnerable people by a hard core of gang members to sell drugs
Gang members are moving into drugs markets outside the urban areas where they usually live and operate, because they are unknown to the local police, there is less competition locally from rival gangs, and non-metropolitan police forces tend to have less experience of addressing this type of activity. The exploitation of vulnerable people is central to county lines. For example, young people are groomed and/or coerced into moving or selling drugs, and the homes of vulnerable adults can be taken over as a base from which drugs are sold.

Police forces and their partners need develop an understanding of what this means locally so that they understand how to identify and respond to gang related exploitation of vulnerable people.

2: Protect vulnerable locations – places where vulnerable young people can be targeted, including pupil referral units and residential children’s care homes

Looked After Children and those children known to children’s social care or youth offending teams are at risk of being exploited and used by gangs. Children not known to services are, however, also used by gangs in an effort to evade detection.

There is evidence that residential children’s care homes and pupil referral units are being targeted with reports of gang members  waiting outside schools to meet children and take them to participate in criminal activities before returning them in time to avoid them being reported missing or raising suspicion.

3: Reduce violence and knife crime – including improving the way national and local partners use tools and powers.

The Home Office states its commitment to continue to prioritise the reduction of gang related violence including tackling knife crime; emphasising the importance of local partnerships to do so.

gang fight

4: Safeguard gang-associated women and girls – including strengthening local practices.

The Home Office says that EGYV has given them a better understanding of a previously hidden cohort of vulnerable women and that local areas are now better able to identify and support vulnerable gang-associated girls. The priority is that vulnerable girls and young women are identified and receive appropriate help and interventions.

5: Promote early intervention

The Home Office flags up the importance of using evidence from the Early Intervention Foundation to identify and support vulnerable children and young people (including identifying mental health problems). Intervening early can stop young people from becoming involved in gang and youth violence in the first place. Local areas have developed more effective preventative programmes which the Home Office is keen to spread. Police and Crime Commissioners have also shown a renewed interest in developing early interventions.

6: Promote meaningful alternatives to gangs such as education, training and employment

It is essential that those involved in gangs or at risk of becoming involved are able to find a meaningful alternative, such as education, training and employment. The Home Office is working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to support those at risk of gang involvement and exploitation into employment, education and training via a number of different programmes including the Youth Engagement Fund funded via a Social Impact Bond.

The Cabinet Office is also leading three key programmes to provide alternatives to gangs for young people:

  1. A new mentor programme “Power Up London” and “Power Up Liverpool” will support more young people who want to put gang life behind them;
  2. Two social action programmes, the Uniformed Youth Social Action Fund and National Youth Social Action Fund, target young people in deprived areas and those from lower socio-economic groups respectively; and
  3. The National Citizen Service for 16 and 17 year olds brings together young people from different backgrounds in every local authority across England, and has been shown by consecutive independent evaluations to deliver more confident, compassionate and engaged young people.
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