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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 December 2007, 11:31 GMT
Gang war lessons from America
Ray Furlong
BBC News

Cincinnati cops
Police in Cincinnati have adopted a carrot and stick approach
In the world of policing, news travels fast. So when the city of Cincinnati, Ohio managed to reduce its murder rate from 89 in 2006 to 55 in 2007, police forces in both America and the UK took notice.

Officers with the Metropolitan Police, plagued by their own deadly gang problems, decided last summer to pay a visit to learn more.

"They thought our methods were applicable to the violence in London, and took back the methodology," Greg Baker, head of community relations with Cincinnati Police, said of the plan that targets gang warfare and the gun deaths that accompany it.

The force uses a model of policing that involves arranging a ceasefire between warring gangs identified with help from the criminal justice department at Cincinnati University.

'VIP treatment'

"We bring these individuals together in a face-to-face meeting and we tell them in no uncertain terms that when the next body falls, if they're part of the group responsible, we will give them a VIP service - that's Very Intense Prosecution - that we will get the shooter as well as all the members of that group," said Mr Baker.

"We tell them we know who they are, where they hang out, even who their girlfriends are. They take notice."

But aside from the stick of an aggressive prosecution, there are also carrots.

Social services offer gang members help finding jobs, training or better housing. Community groups, mothers of murder victims and former gang members are also involved in convincing gangs to stop the killing.

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that it too would adopt the American model of placing equal emphasis on both sides of the strategy.

"Some of the key learning from the US is the necessity of having all agencies and strands in place before the project is implemented, to ensure we are able to deliver on our threats and promises.

"The key message for London, as it has been in the US, is that 'the violence will stop' and this is delivered by the community, law enforcement and support services as one."

There is a code that no one wants to say anything. You learn that from a young age

To that end, meetings have already been held with London's community leaders who recognise that overcoming mistrust of the police is a key challenge.

"A lot of people don't want to be snitches. They don't want to tell this or that, because there could be repercussions," says Draniel, an 18-year-old at a south London youth club.

Is there a code of honour as well as fear of the gangs?

"A bit of both. But there is a code that no one wants to say anything. You learn that from a young age," said Draniel of London's gang culture.

But there are some recent signs of cracks in the wall of silence.

When 18-year-old Nathan Foster was shot dead in Brixton in August the police brought charges against someone within days after local parents got involved.

One of them was mother-of-three Marcia White.

Nathan foster
Nathan Foster was one of 26 teens killed in London so far in 2007

"We were talking to young people at the time and saying 'are we going to let someone get away with this?' We tried to rationalise the need to talk to the police. We had meetings here, at the grave, and at the [shooting] site."

Viv Ahmun, from the charity Involve, has agreed to help the police with the project, but has his reservations about the promised social supports for gang members who agree to give up their guns and battles.

"There's one strand that focuses on the ceasefire, another on enforcement, and another on community involvement. For the model to be effective, the community strand has to be adequately supported and resourced.

Steady funding

"If that happens I'm 100% behind it. If not, it looks suspiciously like a strategy for justifying a quick move to enforcement, which won't bring any positive outcomes."

The Cincinnati strategy was first developed by Harvard University professor David Kennedy and was implemented in Boston in the 1990s. However, after initial success, the murder rate rose again.

Some say this was because the community strands were not given enough prominence and that Boston police were too focused on enforcement.

This is Viv Ahmun's worry.

But others argue that the programme faltered when a drop in the murder rate - a success - was followed by a cut in essential funding.

John Jones ran the Metropolitan Police's Operation Dalehouse in the early 1990s, a campaign against Yardie gangs in Brixton.

He says the issue of steady funding is central for any police operation to work in the long term.

"If you set up a police operation, whether it's the Boston model or something else, once it's achieved its objective the senior management will say, 'Well done, mission accomplished, we can close it down now'. But the minute you do that it all comes out the woodwork again."

Listen to Ray Furlong's full report on The World Tonight on 20 December 2007 at 2200 GMT on BBC Radio 4.


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