Scottish Government
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Breaking gang culture

A new study concludes that adopting blanket 'one-size fits all' policies on gangs and knife-carrying are largely ineffective and recommends instead deploying targeted intervention strategies - like those seen in the successful Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) in Glasgow.

The CIRV initiative has seen gang-related violence drop by 46 per cent in the first 18 months. It is due to be evaluated at the end of the two year pilot.

Modelled on similar projects from the US, the CIRV scheme has included tactics such as:

  • police bringing rival gangs together and showing them the intelligence they have already gathered on individual members
  • senior officers targeting and attempting to break down the gang leadership
  • health workers illustrating the injuries suffered by gang members and ex-offenders
  • the mother of a boy badly injured in a gang fight explaining the impact of violence on their lives

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"There is a cycle of gang culture which has been endemic in areas of Scotland for generations. We know it won't be solved overnight but we are determined to take action to break the cycle of gang membership which has blighted Scotland for too long.

"It is worth remembering that we are talking about relatively low numbers of young people involved in gangs in Scotland, but nonetheless, this research paints an all too familiar picture of gang activity and the scenes we've seen in some communities.

"The research concludes that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions, no blanket, one-sized fits all policies which will solve this. What we need is targeted action which tackles the deep rooted causes - drink, drugs, deprivation and the deep-rooted culture of gangs ingrained in some communities.

"Scotland's law enforcement agencies are united in a shared aim of putting an end to gang activity wherever and whenever it occurs and are already using ever more sophisticated tactics to break the cycle and make our communities safer.

"You only need to look at the fantastic work being done by the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow and the CIRV initiative to see that approach in action.

"We've seen that this approach works on the ground with figures already showing a 50 per cent reduction in violence amongst those young people involved and today's research backs this up saying that these types of strategies are the way ahead.

"This report will help inform future policy development for Scotland and we'll be looking to use lessons learned from it and the work in Glasgow in other communities affected by gang membership.

"Whether it is better information sharing, greater enforcement, mentoring, more partnership working or the deploying of tough tactics learned from the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, we will continue to look to new ways of breaking the culture of gang membership in Scotland."

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Violence Reduction Unit, said:

"We know from experience there is no one solution to the problem of gang violence - what encourages one person to turn away from that lifestyle may not work with another. That's why we couldn't simply copy the CIRV model wholesale from the US - we had to tailor the programme to fit the specific issues in the East End of Glasgow. This principle also applies within the project itself - there is no one single method of engagement, no one single method of assistance, there are a range.

"The same can be said of violence generally - it is not just about gangs or knives, it is about a whole range of unacceptable behaviours. Tackling them requires a variety of methods rather than just one."

The report's conclusions include:

  • Policy initiatives targeted at 'core' gang members may have a much wider impact on reducing youth disorder in terms of dispersing the gang through removing its central focus
  • Stand alone and one-off awareness raising strategies will have a limited impact in changing behaviours. Longer term and early interventions, such as family and neighbourhood (anti-territorial) based intervention projects, which recognise the context of communities with long gang traditions, and aim to make available resources and services aimed at helping and supporting very vulnerable young people, may hold the potential to support long-term change
  • Most knife carriers were aware of the physical and social risks of knife carrying and use, many carriers were aware of the risks of imprisonment (including a four year prison sentence for knife possession). This led some to resist carrying, but others are just choosing alternate weapons such as glass bottles, bricks and bats. In one case study, a youth describes carrying a hammer - but with nails in his pocket in case he is stopped by police
  • Report authors conclude the research has major implications for policy development as the findings indicate that mandatory minimum sentences for knife carriers are likely to target many young people who have little intention of using them but who may have deep rooted reasons for taking such a risk
  • There is an awareness of the negative consequences of carrying a knife, but knife carrying is often a rational choice based on the fear of experiencing victimisation. Report authors recommend that educational strategies that demonstrate the dangers of carrying weapons, but also make available resources and services aimed at helping and supporting those who feel vulnerable might be beneficial in tackling this problem
  • Alcohol was a precursor to violence in many instances
  • In all locations, the areas in which gangs were found were among the most deprived parts of the council area. This suggests the need to integrate socio-economic strategies with gang intervention strategies
  • Youth gang members are likely to be highly visible as problematic individuals and those known to the police and children's hearing system are at a higher risk of being in a gang. Intervention strategies should be directed at youth street work, local police initiatives, schools and social work

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