Operation Trident to spearhead attack on teenage gangs

Metropolitan police unit set up to tackle gun crime in black communities to lead joint anti-gangs initiative

Operation Trident, the Metropolitan police unit set up to tackle gun crime in black communities, is being radically overhauled to spearhead a new attack on teenage gangs, the Guardian can reveal.

Detectives from the specialist unit are being given responsibility for a new policy against street gangs as the capital experiences a sharp rise in serious youth violence.

In plans being finalised by senior officers at Scotland Yard, specialist teams from Trident will lead a joint gangs taskforce that will pull together all of the Met police's units working on the problem, the Guardian understands.

The revelation comes on the day the political landscape of policing undergoes fundamental change.

Political accountability for the Met moves from the elected Metropolitan Police Authority to the mayor, Boris Johnson. Johnson and the Met commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, will launch the new Mayor's Office for Police and Crime (MOPC) on Monday, joining officers on foot patrol in Shepherd's Bush.

The new body is the forerunner of police and crime commissioners who will be elected across the country in November to replace police authorities.

Hogan-Howe will also mark the day by setting out for the first time what he means by "total policing" in a lecture at the London School of Economics on Monday night. The decision to put Trident at the forefront of the anti-gang initiative could prove controversial. Trident officers ran the operation to intercept Mark Duggan last August, which led to his fatal shooting by officers from the Met's armed unit, CO19, and sparked riots across the capital.

Senior officers are aware of the sensitivity of any changes to Trident – which operates with the close co-operation of black community leaders – and the proposals have been kept under wraps so that they could be consulted.

But the chair of the Trident Independent Advisory Group was concerned she had not been informed of the plans to date and would be challenging the commissoner about the issue.

Claudia Webbe said she had concerns that Trident's specialist function dealing with gun crime in the black community would be watered down if it was used in the gang initiative.

"Operation Trident was established as a community-led policing initiative to tackle the disproportionate effects of gun crime on black communities," she said.

"This was not about a war on gangs. The majority of Trident cases are still about drugs and men of violence. I say this not to ignore the fact that children as young as 15 have been targeted and shot dead but so as not to over-simplify the complexity of the role of Trident."

Althea Smith, the vice-chairwoman of the Southwark police consultative group, had concerns that Trident was associated with gun crime in the black community, but gang violence involved young people from all ethnic backgrounds.

"I don't think they should use the word Trident anymore, and they shouldn't use its name in this gang taskforce.

"In the past it was relevant but it isn't so much now; the problem is young people from all backgrounds committing murders and violence on each other."

She welcomed the focus on serious youth crime, however. "It is long overdue and it shows that the new commissioner is listening to us."

The new taskforce will include Operation Connect – which is the closest the Met has come to adopting ideas from the much heralded Boston Ceasefire project.

Connect works with councils and other agencies to divert young people from gangs but at the moment only operates in two London boroughs. Young offenders are offered routes out of gangs and crime but if they refuse to take the exit route offered they face tough enforcement action.

Last month, Hogan-Howe said gang crime was a "significant problem" in nearly half of London's boroughs. "If I was to pick out one thing that I want to do the most about it's young people in gangs," he said.

"It's not just about enforcement – we've got to talk about working with young people and getting them out of gangs."

Ken Hinds, the chairman of the Haringey stop-and-search monitoring group and a former consultant to Operation Trident, said the issues of gun crime among young people and youth violence were all interrelated.

"We are talking about the same groups of people, whether it is knives or guns they use," he said.

But he added that any so-called war on gang violence had to go hand in hand with a co-ordinated approach to give young people a way out of gangs.

"They cannot just lock everyone up, they will just fill the prisons. They need to give young people an exit."

Hogan-Howe has solid political backing for the move. In the aftermath of the August riots, the prime minister, David Cameron, blamed gangs for the violence. Figures later showed, however, that membership of gangs was not a driving force for the looting and rioting that spread across London and then the rest of England.

Official figures show that 13% of those arrested during the riots had been identified as gang members, rising to 19% in London. Most forces – including the Met – do not believe gangs played a pivotal role.

But the focus on teenage gangs in the capital is also driven by rising serious youth violence and the concerns raised by communities at the fate of their young people.

There were 4,335 incidents of serious youth violence – stabbings, grievous bodily harm and other violence – in the six months from April to October 2011 compared with 3,921 in the same period the previous year – representing a 10.6% increase.

A spokesman for the Met said the policy was still being planned. "The MPS is developing a strategy to tackle gang-related crime and serious youth violence in London.

"The new approach will enhance our anti-gang activities, improve co-ordination and tasking, and increase proactive operations, while making sure our skills and expertise in this area are used more consistently and effectively.

"The new plan will also look at how we can enhance our work with partners to divert young people away from gangs so they are able to make more positive contribution to London's communities.

"Trident is a key part of how we tackle gangs and remains responsible for preventing and investigating shootings in London."

Contributor

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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