Page last updated at 00:51 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Gangs eradicated 'in three years'

Ch Supt Tom Coughlan
Ch Supt Tom Coughlan points to a fall in murders to back his prediction

Street gangs in Birmingham will be eradicated within two to three years, according to the officer in charge of tackling the problem in the city.

Ch Supt Tom Coughlan said there has been a "massive reduction" in the number of gang-related murders since the violence peaked in 2003.

Working with communities and helping youngsters early on are part of the successful approach, he said.

But critics said the statement is naive and "not grounded in reality".

Mr Coughlan said in recent years police had seen the emergence of more, smaller gangs but with affiliation to two of Birmingham's more notorious gangs, the Burger Bar Boys and Johnson Crew.

He said the force tries to tackle individuals and their behaviour with a "carrot and stick" approach by offering them support to make more positive choices or face the prospect of long jail sentences.

We have been working on this agenda for many years and to date we have not come close to eliminating gang culture
Dr Derrick Campbell

Working with other agencies to protect communities, tackling peer group pressure and having a better understanding of what draws youngsters into gangs has also been part of the focus.

Figures show a reduction in murders and shootings and Mr Coughlan believes eradication of the gangs can be achieved within two to three years.

"The worst of the situation was in 2003," he told BBC News.

Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, were shot outside a party in Aston in the city on 2 January 2003 in a botched gang attack. Police said more than 20 other people were murdered that year.

"We think we've got it right because of the massive reduction in murders and serious incidents.

"For the first time in many years I think we have got control which really enables us to penetrate further into some of the reasons why individuals are drawn into gangs and what family interventions need to be made.

"The massive, massive momentum that we've got in the city (means that) I can see (eradication) being achieved in the next two to three years."

'Strangely naive'

But Dr Derrick Campbell, a government advisor on gangs and chief executive of Race Equality Sandwell, said he has been working for several years towards eliminating the presence of gangs in the city but has "not come close" to succeeding.

He said of Mr Coughlan's claim: "In my view, this statement is strangely naive.

"Yes it's a positive aspiration, but unfortunately not grounded in reality.

"We, as the community along with other partners, have been working on this agenda for many years and to date we have not come close to eliminating negative gang culture."

He said factors like poverty, alienation and poor housing are out of police control and unless those issues are dealt with there is "no way" negative gang culture can be eradicated in its current form within that time.

You can see more on the investigation into criminal gangs on Inside Out, BBC1, 16 November at 1930 GMT

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