Haringey police offer gang members a final ultimatum
PUBLISHED: 19:19 18 October 2011
The force has launched Operation Connect to tackle gang violence.
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The project is based on a similar scheme run in Glasgow, called the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV).
Launched in 2008 in a bid to break the entrenched gang problems in the city’s East End, CIRV borrows from the Boston Ceasefire project run in the mid 1990’s in which the gang is treated as a unit rather than as individuals.
The gang members are called into a meeting in which they are offered help and support to leave the gang.
But they are warned if any members commit an assault or murder then they will pursue the whole group not just individuals.
Some 400 gang members have signed up to CIRV since it was launched in 2008 and police credit it with nearly halving gang violence in the city.
Up to 80 suspected gang members have received a letter from Haringey police offering them a stark choice – get out with our help, or we will arrest you.
Shortly afterwards, officers swooped on 18 homes in a series of dawn raids across Hornsey and Haringey in a renewed crackdown.
This twin “carrot and stick” approach is part of a new groundbreaking initiative to tackle gangs called Operation Connect – designed to take the heart out of gangs which have sprung up across many of Haringey’s communities.
Superintendent Chris Barclay, who is heading Operation Connect, said: “People join gangs because they want to be a part of something. To feel that you are part of a team in some way, shape or form, is what a gang is.
“But the difference in being part of a gang as opposed to a team is that you can leave a team. You can’t leave a gang.
“That is why we will provide as much as we can to help them. If that includes moving them we will do our best.
“That involves making a positive choice to change their lifestyle.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help them with that, but it is their choice.”
Once restricted to rare examples on only the most troubled estates, gangs have spread across many parts of Haringey creating a potentially lethal patchwork of allegiances, rivalries and violence.
During random weapons sweeps carried out in March, offices found a knife hidden in the bushes outside Lightfoot Estate in Hornsey, where the “grey gang” is known to operate.
And there have been more than a handful of instances of people stopped and searched by police and found to be wearing stab and bullet proof vests.
For those caught up in this lifestyle, gangs can bring a sense of identity and belonging, a seductive offering for people living in often deprived areas with poor family relationships and job prospects.
Once entangled in this web of violence, however, it is difficult to escape.
For young gang members, even stepping foot inside another group’s postcode within Haringey can be dangerous.
And police warn that many young children are likely to follow their brothers and sisters into the lifestyle.
It is widely agreed that something must be done to tackle gangs, but some community groups have raised concerns about Operation Connect.
Sabba Sabba Kerr-Armstrong is a founder member of Haringey Young People Empowered (HYPE) and worked with young people from many of the borough’s gang hotspots.
She warns that gang members often have criminal records, poor qualifications and low confidence.
Offering them a way out is no easy ultimatum, but a complex challenge which an often distrusted police force may not be best placed to provide, she explained.
She said: “A lot of these young people have lost trust in the system and the police. It is a question of who are they going to listen to.”
But for the police the risks of not taking action are higher.
“We want to break the cycle before it becomes a cycle like it has in America, where grandfathers, fathers and sons can sometimes be a member of the same gang,” said Superintendent Barclay.
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