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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 19:51 GMT
Boston Miracle inspires UK's gang fight
By Steven Shukor
BBC News, London

Police authorities in Boston
Operation Ceasefire saw youth crime fall dramatically
Scotland Yard's latest initiative to deal with youth gun crime is modelled on a successful gang-busting initiative in the US.

Within two years of implementing Operation Ceasefire in 1995, Boston had reclaimed the streets from the gangs.

The Boston Miracle, as it is known, reduced violent crime by about 50% in two years.

During a 29-month period covered by the operation, not a single teenager died in gun violence.

From America we are taking some of the ideas... this idea of calling in the most violent offenders
Commander Shaun Sawyer
Metropolitan Police
It was a notable achievement considering that up to the early 90s, about 60 young people were murdered every year.

It is not the first time British police forces have studied the Boston model to see how they could adapt some of its projects.

Several UK cities, including Manchester and Glasgow, which have their own gun and gang problems, have looked to Boston for inspiration.

Hard talk

Launched in 1996, Operation Ceasefire was a city-wide strategy aimed at deterring youth and gang firearm violence.

Gang members were invited to meetings with police and church leaders where they were told things had to change.

Those who chose to change their ways were offered jobs, counselling and other forms of support to get their life back on track.

Those who ignored the tough new stance were threatened with longer, harsher sentences in federal prisons.

And it was no empty threat. Gang member Freddy Cordoza received more than 19 years in jail for possessing a single bullet.

Michele McPhee, a columnist for the Boston Herald newspaper, said Operation Ceasefire was initially a success story.

"They sat the kids down and said: 'We know who you are, what you're up to and we're not putting up with it anymore.

"'We're giving you a chance and if you take it we will help you.'"

Violent gangs

She said one of the major complaints of youths involved in gangs was that they saw no life outside the gang.

"So those who agreed to the ceasefire were put on intervention programmes to help them change their lives."

McPhee said over the years Ceasefire has lost its momentum and has been undermined by a particularly lenient judicial system.

It's a tactic we want to explore and see if it works in London
Commander Shaun Sawyer
The Met Police's new Operation Alliance has adopted many initiatives that have proved successful in Boston.

"For the top end and the most violent offenders we have gone literally around the world to see what works," said Cdr Shaun Sawyer.

"From America we are taking some of the ideas... this idea of calling in the most violent offenders."

"It's a tactic we want to explore and see if it works in London."

Senior figures from seven of south London's most violent gangs will be brought in for talks.

They will be summoned to meet police, community leaders and other officials.

They will be told to stop the violence and tit-for-tat killings or face a zero-tolerance crackdown.

Long-term prevention

Some 171 gangs with members as young as 13 have been identified in London by the Met.

The majority of these are loose affiliations of friends, where gang allegiance is prone to shifting on a regular basis.

However, criminologists say the gang problem in the UK is nowhere near levels experienced in the US.

Gun crime in London has risen by nearly 10%, according to police figures released in October.

There were 1,825 gun-enabled crimes between April and September 2007, up 162 on the same period last year.

The hope is the meetings will a have positive impact on the gang leaders who may be able to influence the behaviour of younger members.

Uanu Seshmi, of the south London youth mentoring group The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, said it was crucial that police did not act in isolation.

"Young people involved with guns have underlying emotional issues and they need to be targeted by more long-term prevention work," he said.

"Community groups need to be given the support to carry out this work because they know the youths who are in the gangs better than anybody else."

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