Boris Johnson plan to tackle gang crime rejected by two of three pilot councils

People of Haringey and Lambeth refuse to accept Operation Shield amid fears its punitive measures risk worsening relations with police

Boris Johnson’s programme to tackle gang violence in London has been rejected by two out of the three councils trialling it, with communities refusing to accept it amid fears its punitive measures risk worsening relations with police.

Based on a model successfully used in the US, the three-pronged Operation Shield combines community mobilisation and opportunities for young people to move away from crime with harsh collective punishment for those who remain in gangs.

But this week Haringey council, one of three councils involved in piloting the scheme, decided it could not go ahead with it after community partners unanimously rejected it.

A consultation in Haringey was told that the operation’s tactics would erode the community’s trust in authorities and hand draconian powers to police that could too easily be misused. Lambeth council had already dismissed the plan after a similar backlash.

Ken Hinds, the chairman of Haringey’s independent stop and search monitoring group, said: “The main objection was the enforcement side of things from both the council and the police. Another side of it was how do they label gang members? A third side of it was the collective punishment, about targeting the families.”

He raised concerns about racial profiling, saying: “They are only targeting young black men, but we know that the organised criminals [in Haringey] are mainly from the Turkish and Albanian communities. The young black men are the tail and not the head.”

Lee Jasper, a race relations activist based in Lambeth, said the scheme had been backed with “peanuts” compared with US versions, which allocated millions of dollars in funding for community initiatives and exit strategies to divert youngsters away from crime.

“It’s not on the scale it needs to be at all,” he said. “What they are doing is providing a fig leaf to cover up this big enforcement operation.”

The rejection of the plan is a serious blow to the London mayor’s office for policing and crime (Mopac). It had earmarked £200,000 for a 12-month pilot it hoped would reduce levels of youth violence.

Based on a model called the gang violence intervention, developed in the US in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic, it was a key part of the mayor’s policing strategy to fight crime while cutting costs by targeting the most prolific criminals.

On Thursday Haringey’s head of community safety, Eubert Malcolm, emailed community groups informing them that the council, Metropolitan police and Mopac would not continue with Operation Shield in the borough.

“It was agreed by all agencies, after taking into account the feelings of the community, that we would not continue with the Shield in the current format,” Malcolm wrote, adding that officials were still keen to work with the community to reduce violent crime.

In Lambeth, where the pilot was first introduced this year, community groups have also effectively forced the council to ditch the scheme, with officials saying it is already regarded as a failure.

As part of the strategy, the borough was obliged to invite suspected gang members to a “call-in” session – similar to one recently carried out in Brent – earlier this year. Few turned up and the council judged that the initiative had essentially failed.

“In the US, gang members are required by law to attend call-ins. In the UK the legal framework is very different,” said Lib Peck, the Lambeth council leader.

“The model of collective punishment Boris proposed doesn’t apply in the same way and so has needlessly angered community members who are otherwise willing to work with us to tackle this very serious issue.”

Westminster, Operation Shield’s third pilot borough, appears to be the only one going ahead with the scheme as planned. A spokesperson said the borough was working closely with the police and community groups, adding: “Shield is part of that process.”

A Mopac spokesperson said: “The Shield pilot is just one of many schemes to help tackle gang crime based on the mayor’s commitment to prevent gang membership and help members leave gangs, robustly enforce the law against criminal behaviour and build support and confidence in local communities.

“Working more closely with members of local communities, who have already made their support and commitment to the aims of the project clear, Shield is already supporting a number of individuals out of gangs, away from crime and into better lives.

“This new and highly innovative approach is now being refined and specialised in each of the three pilot boroughs, according to local needs, to help offer a permanent way out for victims of serious violence.”

Ch Supt Victor Olisa, the Haringey borough commander, said: “None of us are saying a programme on reducing violence won’t happen. The name Shield has caused anxiety and there needs to be more community consultation. Police, the local authority and the community are still planning how best to have that programme in Haringey.”


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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