New approach to tackling gang crime

Council boosts funding for crime prevention after publishing in-depth research into gangs

Waltham Forest Gangs Map

A map published with the report From Postcodes to Profit showing where gangs are active in Waltham Forest (credit Waltham Forest Council)

A new model for tackling gang crime will be adopted by Waltham Forest Council following a report that showed gangs were motivated primarily by money.

The independent report From Postcodes to Profit published last month was written by academics from London South Bank University (LSBU), after being commissioned by the council at a cost of £50,000, and examined the borough’s gang scene in detail. It was the first report of its type to be published in more than a decade.

Key findings in From Postcodes to Profit were that gangs are more money orientated and “ruthless” in the drugs trade than they were ten years ago, with less emphasis on postcode rivalries. It also showed that rising competition in London’s drug market has led to gangs targeting towns outside London where they are less known to authorities – known as ‘county lines’ operations.

The report’s authors spoke to current and former gang members to better understand the behaviour, make-up, recruitment, and purpose of gangs. They found that there were twelve established gangs operating in the borough, affecting all areas.

Andrew Whittaker, an associate professor of social work at LSBU, said: “What is striking is how ruthless and exploitative some gangs have become. It’s possible that the situation we’re seeing with gangs in Waltham Forest is indicative of a wider pan-London trend of increasing sophistication in the way that gangs operate now.

“We know that gang members have much higher rates of mental health problems than the general population. Six out of ten gang members have anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder and a third will have attempted suicide. We welcome a greater focus from Waltham Forest Council on supporting young people’s mental health.”

Following the report, the council has announced an extra £800,000 in funding over the next four years to tackle trends in gang behaviour, including the growing involvement of girls. A new operational model for the council’s existing gang prevention programme will be implemented and based around a “prevent/pursue/protect structure”.

The borough’s new approach includes working directly with schools through teaching “life skills” in the classroom and offering mentoring to troubled pupils; working with specific community groups in at-risk areas; creating additional routes into employment for young people on the verge of gang involvement; offering mental health assessments to young people identified as being on the periphery of crime; and increasing capacity in the borough to seize criminal assets.

Waltham Forest already has a crime and disorder partnership that operates a co-ordinated approach to gang crime, called the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), bringing together professionals from children’s services, health, education, housing, police, probation, crime prevention, and victim support. Together they have adopted a ‘think family’ approach which sees the family as central to improving the life chances of young people.

Superintendent Paul Clements, from Newham and Waltham Forest Police, said: “Crime is always changing and this report shows the sophistication of some of the gangs our officers are dealing with day in, day out. We are absolutely committed to working with other organisations, such as Waltham Forest Council, to divert young people away from these gangs and bringing to justice those who commit crimes.”

Councillor Clare Coghill, the council leader, added: “I am pleased that we as a council have made the bold decision to tackle gang crime head on by commissioning this report and acting upon it.

“The added knowledge in the report coupled with the additional funding we are putting in place will help us build on our gang prevention programme to help those in gangs escape them, and prevent others from a life of crime.”

Read the report From Postcodes to Profit: