Westminster launches “nerve centre” to track gangs

�180,000 social monitoring desk unveiled as part of measures to address riots

A gang information desk which monitors social network sites and a new dedicated gang worker form part of Westminster Council’s response strategy to last month’s riots.

Although the borough experienced relatively little damage during the riots, a number of premises were targeted in Queensway and Westbourne Grove while two caf�s were attacked in St John’s Wood.

In a bid to reduce Westminster’s growing gang culture and support the borough’s young people, the council this week announced a new �1.6million “Your Choice” programme.

The information desk would cost the council �180,000 over the next three years.

It could be established to look at suspected gang members interacting through social networks including Facebook, YouTube and Blackberry Messenger.

A Westminster report says monitoring social networks would help “spot confrontations” and “provide up-to-date intelligence” for the council.

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Other plans, approved by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, include a �40,000-a-year gang worker to support existing outreach workers who work closely with gangs.

A youth outreach bus will be provided to educate youngsters on guns, knife crime and drugs at a cost of �75,000.

The council will also work on a cross-border gang mediation programme with neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea and Brent.

Serious youth violence incidents in Westminster almost doubled last year and have further increased by 36 per cent in 2011.

The council says much of this is due to violence between gangs in the north-west of the borough. Under the “Your Choice” programme, they will be brought together on neutral ground for mediation sessions.

At the cabinet meeting, there was widespread support for “Your Choice”.

Children, young people and community protection boss Cllr Nickie Aiken commended the “holistic approach” of the scheme.

She said: “If we are going to tackle the underlying issues of gang activity, we have to take this as a multi-agency approach.”

Finance boss Cllr Philippa Roe warned that youth violence would “get worse” if the plan wasn’t implemented and opposition Labour party leader Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said the borough had “serious issues” that needed to be addressed.

Speaking about the gang information desk, Cllr Aiken says the council will be asking young people to assist with the strategy “without spying on people”.

* The 16 men accused of ransacking two St John’s Wood caf�s are due to appear at Wood Green Crown Court in October.