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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 15:13 GMT
How Trident hones in on gun crime
By Jenny Percival
BBC News

Guns collected by Scotland Yard
Guns are removed from circulation by the Metropolitan Police
Gun crime across England and Wales has increased every year over the last decade.

But three fatal shootings of teenagers in less than two weeks in south London have reinforced the need to focus resources on certain areas.

The murder of Billy Cox, 15, in the Clapham area of south London, is being investigated by a unit known as Operation Trident.

The Metropolitan Police unit was set up nine years ago to investigate gun crime in the black community after a series of murders in Brent and Lambeth.

Similar units have since been set up in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds.

The increase in gun crime coincided with a rise in the use of crack cocaine. More dealers started carrying guns, a practice that spread to local gangs.

Trident now has 300 police officers and 70 support staff, who investigate gun crime in the black community as well as working with victims, witnesses and the community.

A recent advertising campaign aimed at 11 to 16-year-olds tried to deter them from carrying guns. It featured a picture of a body in a morgue with the slogan: "Carrying a gun can get you in to the coolest places".

The Met says Trident has been a success - the number of fatal shootings has fallen from 18 in 2004/05 to 15 2005/06.

However, the number of non-fatal Trident shootings has increased dramatically over the last two years - from 185 in 2004/05 to 251 in 2005/06.

The latest detection rates - where the police believe they know who is responsible for a crime - are 44% for murders and 17% for non-fatal shootings.

Gangs, drugs and violence

Although the police have a major role to play in tackling gun crime, experts agree that they cannot deal with the problem alone.

MURDERS DURING OPERATION TRIDENT
2005/06 - 15
2004/05 - 18
2003/04 - 12
2002/03 - 24
2001/01 - 22

Claudia Webbe, vice chairman of Trident's independent advisory group, said Trident was successful at investigating incidents, but more work needed to be done on prevention.

"We need more preventative work and that involves a whole range of agencies, not just the police."

The kind of agency she has in mind may well include the mentoring group The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation.

The group was set up nine years ago in Southwark, south London, following concern within the local community about the number of young black boys getting involved with gangs, drugs and violence.

Uanu Seshmi, one of the foundation's founders, said the boys involved in gun crimes were "damaged" and had few positive role models.

"They have a certain mindset, and that mindset is that if I'm in a violent situation, and you do something to me, I will shoot you," he said.

More than 450 boys aged between 11 and 19, the majority of whom have been excluded from school, have gone through the foundation's courses, which include GCSE and A-levels, life skills classes and work placements.

Imitation weapons

Lord Harris, from the Metropolitan Police Authority, blamed a combination of factors for the increase in gun crime, including a gangland culture, the glorification of guns and knives and the alienation of young people.

"There are plenty of young people who already feel that their aspiration is to have a gun like some of the appalling individuals who are out on the street already.

"We've got to break that cycle, we've got to make people have enough self-confidence in themselves that they don't see that as a solution."

He added: "It's not just a question of support, it's also a question of trust.

"There will be people who know who has committed these shootings. There will be people around and about who are well aware of that."

HOW HOME OFFICE SAYS IT'S TACKLING GUN CRIME
Introduced a minimum 5-year sentence for possession of an illegal firearm
Increased the age limit for possession of air rifles to 17
Banned fake weapons that can be converted to fire live ammunition
Made it illegal to make or sell fake weapons that look like real ones

The Home Office insists that gun crime in England and Wales is rare - less than 0.5% of all crime recorded by the police.

Also, gun crime tends to be focused in certain areas - just over half of all offences took place in London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

But officials acknowledge that the number of overall offences involving firearms has increased every year since 1997/98.

In the 12 months to June 2005, there were 10,979 gun crimes in England and Wales - almost twice as many as in 1997/8.

The Home Office says much of the increase is due to an increase in the number of offences involving imitation weapons as well as changes in the way gun crime is recorded.



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