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Today (8 February) sees the Metropolitan Police launch their new approach to Gangs in London. There is no question that the capital faces the largest challenge when it comes to gangs and the refocus by the Commissioner and Mayor will provide a new impetus.

The need for further action was brought into sharp focus by the disorder in the summer. In London one in five of those arrested had links with gangs and gang members were arrested in many incidents linked to disorder elsewhere in the country. That was not, of course, the whole story of the summer, but the renewed focus upon gangs is welcomed by the police. In the autumn ACPO worked to jointly host an International Conference on Gangs with the Home Office and supported the development of the government’s Ending Gang and Youth Violence Cross governmental report.

The renewed focus does take place in an environment where there is much success taking place in police forces. In 2006 I was the Police Commander in Moss Side in Manchester. The high levels of shootings had left a lasting scar on the area and gun crime involving young people was tragically too common. Today the major work by Greater Manchester Police and its partners through XCalibre has driven down gun crime and is vital in allowing the area to flourish. The same can be seen by the outstanding work through Matrix in Merseyside which has delivered international acclaim for its reduction in gun crime. In my own force, the West Midlands, there has been some brilliant work to make substantial inroads into gangs with partners and, despite spending reductions, we are investing more into tackling gangs. The same great work can be seen in many other towns and cities across the country and, on gun crime, forces work together through the world class National Ballistics Intelligence Service, (NABIS).

In many ways the challenges set out in the cross governmental approach are not about the police stepping up, though we always aspire to do even better. Much of the report concerns how other partners can meet the steps policing has taken. The new funding streams now available for tackling gangs are being allocated and led by local authorities, recognising the shift we need to make. Enforcement will not solve this problem, but it is a vital ingredient. Safeguarding young people is critical.

Over the next few months there are some further steps needed to build upon the government’s report. I see these as:

Mapping gangs:
We are working now to set a consistent methodology to help forces identify gangs, using a common definition, and assess the threat posed by their own gangs using a common framework.

Building a stronger understanding of local problems:
Police data is not the whole picture. Schools, children’s services, youth offending teams, probation and particularly the community all feed into the local picture. We have looked carefully at work conducted in other countries such as the US and built on the experiences of other cities. This way we can implement a stronger local assessment model using a wider range of data.

Building effective local models of delivery:
The government has established an Ending Gang and Youth Violence Team with a wide network of advisors to help areas assess how well their partnerships are addressing gangs. This is a genuine attempt to support, not inspect, and provides a genuine opportunity for government and local agencies to work together. We need to make sure the reviews are put in place quickly to help the first thirty areas we are going to work with.

Making sure communities are part of the solution:
Gangs come from and affect a diverse range of communities. Black communities in particular have suffered a disproportionate number of deaths and serious injuries amongst young people through gun and knife crime. Over the years I have seen local communities stand up and face this horror and begin to work with the police to turn things around, they serve as powerful examples.

Media coverage has played up links with “gangsta” culture and Black Britain to an extent over the summer - and as such some communities felt worried a step up in police action would disproportionately affect them. Worries some minority communities have about stop and search also feed these concerns.

I do not believe many of the popular characterisations accurately reflect the reality of gangs. A better evidenced understanding of their actual nature will address this. We all need to ensure communities feel part of the partnership working with the police to solve this problem.

In some cases we will have to win their trust and support, but when the community are alongside an area’s agencies it is an unbeatable combination. There are challenges ahead but the Metropolitan Police, and indeed the police service across the country, are ready to step up to it.

Dave Thompson is Deputy Chief Constable at West Midlands Police and ACPO lead for gangs.