Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Can US crime 'miracle' help Glasgow?

By Phil Mackie
BBC News

Life coach Reg Hall on Glasgow's gangs and the new scheme

The authorities in Glasgow have begun a series of ground-breaking face-to-face meetings with street gangs to urge them to put down their weapons.

They have offered them an incentive - help to gain qualifications and find jobs - but also warned them that if they didn't stop fighting they'd be pursued and punished. Some 5m in funding has been promised over the next two years.

The strategy is based on the so-called Boston Miracle, named after the American city where murder rates were drastically reduced in the 1990s.

It's being closely watched by politicians and other cities in Britain.


Glasgow has the highest youth homicide rate in the UK. A World Health Organisation assessment is that young men (between 10-29 years of age) in Scotland are seven times more likely to be the victim of homicide than their counterparts in France, and fives times more likely than their counterparts in England and Wales.

Strathclyde Police estimate that in Glasgow's East End alone, about 800 people belong to 55 street gangs.

Scott Breslin
Scott Breslin was stabbed in the neck and left paralysed by his injuries

Some gang members are as young as eight. They fight over territory using sticks, bottles and knives.

Scott Breslin, 23, from Penilee, was stabbed in the neck after being attacked by two teenagers seven years ago. He was left paralysed and now needs 24 hour care.
"One of them started saying 'where are you from?' and right then we knew we were going to get attacked", he says, "one came round and stabbed me in the neck."

Police have spent months mapping out where gangs are based and finding out who belongs to them.

In late October, a dramatic meeting took place at the city's sheriff court. One hundred and fifty gang members were brought face-to-face with police officers, church ministers and representatives from many other agencies.

"It was a very emotional day for everyone that was there, including the gangs members themselves", said Andy McKay from Strathclyde Police, "we told them that, for every act of violence committed from that day forth, we would hold the whole gang responsible, but we offered them a way out, and that way was to engage with us."

Seventy-five of the gang members who attended the meeting have since used a free phone number to ask for help. None of them has re-offended.

US probation officer Bill Stewart gives a tour of Boston

The "call-in" session was based on a model first used in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1996.

The previous year there had been a record 162 homicide victims in the city. Gang violence was spiralling out of control. Of particular concern were the dozens of under 17-year-olds being killed.

"We brought in the kids in the last week of June '96," said probation officer Bill Stewart, "and told them we were tired of being tired.


Every law enforcement agency in the city was part of the strategy. If a crime was perpetrated, every gang member in that part of Boston would be questioned and searched.

If they could not be linked to that crime, but could be prosecuted for less serious offences, then they were brought to court.

1990 - 153
1991 - 116
1992 - 76
1993 - 99
1994 - 85
1995 - 98
1996 - 61
1997 - 43
1998 - 35
2007 - 66
Source: Boston PD

US laws enabled previous convictions to be taken into account. If a gang member had a long enough criminal record, then they could be prosecuted by the Federal authorities and given lengthy jail sentences, even for a relatively minor offence.

When they came out of prison, probation officers would visit them at night to make sure they were obeying the terms of their probation. If they breached them they would be arrested and sometimes sent back to prison.

"It was a relentless pursuit," said Detective Superintendant Gary French from the Boston Police Department. "Every time we had the opportunity to make a low-level arrest we were going to do that. We were working with probation, the DA's office, and the sheriff's office."

A year after homicide levels reached record highs, the figures were slashed. For 18 months no under 17-year-olds were victims of homicide at all. The authorities thought that they had cracked the problem. It meant that resources were diverted to other problems.

Slowly, a new generation took over the gangs and the problems returned. The homicide rate is back up to around 60 a year.

Freddie Cardoza jailed for almost 20 years for possession of a single bullet
Cardoza was known as a gang leader and his case made him a "poster boy" for Operation Ceasefire
Then US Attorney Don Stern said: "Given his extensive criminal record, if there was a federal law against jaywalking, we'd indict him for that."

"Get a plan, stay with it, commit to it and do it, and everybody wins," was the advice Bill Stewart had for Glasgow. "I'm a cock-eyed optimist. I think the kid we save ... could be the kid who grows up to discover the cure for cancer."

There have been street gang problems in Glasgow for more than a century. The notorious Penny Mobs terrorised the city in the 1870s.

The singer, Frankie Vaughan, made a high profile visit in 1968 to Easterhouse to urge the gangs to put down their knives.

This is the latest in a long line of campaigns to curb street violence. A lot rides on its success or failure. Other cities have similar problems with street gangs.

The former Conservative leader Ian Duncan-Smith is known to be a fan of the Boston Strategy and it is expected to form a major part of Tory policy on tackling street gangs.

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