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A new report warns the Government to avoid using centralised policies to tackle gang violence and knife crime. It argues that a focus on Whitehall-driven targets does not take into account the diverse nature of many gangs and that local areas should be able to introduce interventions based on local factors.
The New Local Government Network says that councils should be given control over local neighbourhood policing and have the freedom to develop their own strategies to tackle gang violence. It also suggests that local citizens could have greater influence over community sentences for gang-related crimes. This would allow judges to discuss with the local community how a convicted gang member should be punished under a community sentence. The report also calls for greater pre-emptive investment in severely affected neighbourhoods and for a more creative approach to the use of youth mentors to support people in danger of becoming influenced by gangs.
Tackling gang violence has become a major political issue and some police forces have made it their number one crime priority. In London alone, upwards of 169 separate gangs have been identified, with more than a quarter involved in murders. One-fifth of youth crime in London is attributed to gangs.
Director of the NLGN, Chris Leslie said:
“We know that gangs exist for varying reasons; some driven by drug-dealing, some by geographical territorialism and some for mutual protection, therefore different local problems demand differing local solutions. We have seen a litany of Whitehall-led initiatives to tackle gang related violence, from the Violent Crime Reduction Act; gang and gun summits in No 10; the Tackling Gang’s Action Programme and this week’s youth crime plan. Whilst these have undoubtedly highlighted some of the real issues around gang violence, they have not promoted greater local flexibility to tackle local problems. By giving elected council leaders control over local neighbourhood policing, communities would have a direct say over where gang-related issues are tackled and how successfully police are in stopping it”.
The NLGN report Gangs at the Grassroots: Community solutions to street violence points towards innovative projects in Lambeth, Manchester and Islington as evidence that local authorities can develop successful responses to gang violence. These projects bring together innovative, multi-agency solutions not only to reduce violence but to promote education and employment. The report argues that it is vital that where schemes have been proven to work, they must remain funded. The report is also critical of a lack of funding for local interventions, suggesting that just £20 million has been spent on local multi-agency interventions, whilst since 2004 the Government has provided only £1.75 million to local community groups to support specific gang projects.
Author of the report, Anthony Brand argues:
“Top-down responses and nationwide ‘crack-downs’ on youth crime can do little to address the underlying drivers of gangs and their criminality. Local, multi-agency frameworks are key to addressing gang violence. We know that effective solutions must simultaneously deliver a range of interventions across education, health, policing, youth-work, community engagement, economic development, regeneration, skills and training and family support, all tailored to the specific communities and context in which different gangs operate. This puts local authorities firmly on the front-line in tackling this issue, bringing partners together under a common vision and coordinating services across an area.”