Are Police Approaches To Reduce Gun Crime Criminology Essay

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In this essay I will explore the approaches adopted by the police to tackle gun crime involving young people. I will show how the raise in gun crime is related to the emergence of a "gun culture" and will discover why young people feel it is necessary to carry a firearm. These issues must first be understood in order to assess the Governments Tackling Gangs Action Programme and the effects it had both nationally and locally. I will consider approaches adopted in two cities one which saw a decrease in firearms offences, Manchester and one which experienced an increase, Birmingham. I will demonstrate that firearms offences cannot be tackled through legislation alone but require a multi-agency approach addressing the social and economic issues.

Although gun crime only represents 0.4% of all recorded crimes (Hales et al, 2006 p.vii) events involving firearms never fail to grab the headlines. Studies report that higher levels of gun ownership result in higher levels of violent crime (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.13). 'Recent incidents of youth violence have been closely linked with "gangs"' (Brand & Ollerearnshaw, 2006 p6) and it has been argued that 'instances of violent offending with firearms... are inextricably linked to gang culture' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.28). 'As the number of youths involved in gangs has grown so has the prevalence of weapons and firearms on the streets' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.27). In 2002 the 'National Criminal Intelligence Service reported an increase in gun possession amongst gangs' and one study details that 60% of gang members reported possessing firearms (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.27). Bennet and Holloway (2004) have found that 'gang members... (are)... more heavily involved in possession of weapons' (p317) and Marshall et al (2005) have also reported that 'gang members committed more crime than non-gang members...(and) are more likely to carry weapons' (cited in Bullock and Tilley, 2008 p.37). The Home Office has previously found that the 'peak age for carrying a gun was 16 to 17' (Wilson et al 2006 cited in Squires, 2008p.23) and the Trident Unit of the Metropolitan Police has observed that the 'peak age for both offending and victimisation being 19 years' (Squires et al, 2008 p.34). Although these figures do not match exactly, I would propose that some allowance must be made for locality differences and together these do provide evidence that there is a firearms issue amongst the youth.

It is evident that there is a gang culture emerging but why do youths feel it is necessary to carry firearms?

'More than half of young offenders have had a gun or knife used against them or been threatened with a gun or knife in the past 12 months'(Golding & McClory, 2008 p.5). This information and the fact that 'more than half of young offenders feel that the police are unable to protect them from violent crime'(Golding & McClory, 2008 p.5) has caused young people to deliberately join criminal gangs for personal protection. They want to be armed because 'they believe that others are' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.6). Pitts introduced the concept of the "reluctant gangster" used to describe a youth living in the territory of a gang who joins the gang because of the 'risks of harm to themselves or their family if they did not;... to get access to education/recreational resources...; to compensate for lack of employment or education opportunities'(cited in Golding & McClory, 2008 p.29). These youths were effectively forced into joining the gang and do not leave because this would give rise to dangers. Being a member of the gang was 'preferable to being victimised by it. Many young people involved in "gang activity" cite protection, "safety in numbers", as a reason for doing so'(Squires et al, 2008 p.27). 'Many young people come to see crime and violence as a credible and even necessary "career". Some aspire to become involved, others are drawn, reluctantly, into illegality'(Squires et al, 2008 p.27). 'Social pressures to attain a conspicuously material lifestyle in the context of economic hardship are reconciled by some through involvement in the criminal economy'(Hales et al, 2006 p.xiii). In some cases this criminal lifestyle is 'more lucrative... than the... legitimate labour market'(Hales et al, 2006 p.xiv).

In addition to personal protection and criminal enterprise, the '"performance" of violence in public may be crucial to young people's street credibility'(Squires et al, 2008 p.27). The use of guns become related to imagery and machismo. They become a symbolically powerful method of demonstration'(Firmin et al 2007p.28). Ongoing disputes and conflict, particularly related to disrespect or challenges to social-status, may be used 'as a way of attaining social standing' (Hales et al, 2006 p.82). Hales et al. (2006) also found younger offenders would carry firearms to associate themselves with older, more serious criminals (Hales et al, 2006 p.99). 'As gangs become influential... they attract 'wannabe gangster'... young men keen to acquire the successful trappings of their peers'(Squires et al, 2008 p.25). The recent emergence of the gang culture has meant that rather than being used by experienced professional criminals, guns are now used by gang members in order to commit criminal offences, used in protection and also as a means of raising their status in society.

The police have historically had difficulty clamping down on the illegal gun markets (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.14). Modern legislation appeared in the 1950's and '60's when 'gun crime rose at an unprecedented rate' alongside the number of firearms fatalities (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.16). A 1973 green paper 'The control of Firearms in Great Britain' proposed that the best way to reduce availability of guns to criminals is for society to make it difficult to acquire firearms. Unfortunately no legislation followed and after 1982, legislation seemed to be driven by events rather than being proactive. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was introduced after the Hungerford rampage and the Firearms Act 1991 was brought in after the Dunblane Massacre(Squires cited in ballistic:17). Despite this legislation the number of firearms related homicides continued to increase by 63% from 1997 to 2002(Golding & McClory, 2008 p.17). In 2002 gun crime again dominated the headlines when two girls were killed in the cross fire of a shoot out on (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.17). The Government again responded with more legislation placing provisions in the Anti-Social Behaviour and Criminal Justice Acts 2003 including raising the minimum age for possessing air weapons unsupervised and a mandatory five year sentence for the illegal possession of a prohibited fire arm (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.18). However the police's efforts of enforcing the legislation have often been hampered by the courts and the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, in 2008, accused the judiciary of being 'lenient on gun crime by overlooking mandatory five-year sentences' (Squires et al, 2008p.35).

Put simply the police's approach was catch those who carry guns, take their guns away and lock them up however 'legislation is not sufficient to control this surge in youth crime' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.26) and 'gun crime in Britain is too complicated... to be controlled by reducing the number of available guns' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.14). Hales et al (2006) argue that 'increasingly punitive approaches may only have a marginal impact... where such individuals feel that they may be killed it is conceivable that no reasonable criminal sanction would deter them from carrying firearms' (Hales et al, 2006 p.95). New approaches build upon this supposition and propose that gun crime can only be tackled if the social and psychological factors are addressed. It has been suggested that 'the police are only 10-15% of the solution to reducing violent crime' (Dave Keller cited in Golding & McClory, 2008 p.30). Marshall et al (2005) argue that there must be acknowledgement of the 'complexity of the issues involved' (cited in Bullock and Tilley, 2008 p.23) and the general view is that 'more wide-ranging multi-disciplinary and locally tailored approaches to criminal justice are required' (Brand & Ollerearnshaw, 2006 p9).

In 2007 the Government established the Tackling Gangs Action Programme (TGAP) with the aim of building on 'enforcement work, community reassurance and third sector delivery of support' in neighbourhoods where guns and gangs had caused serious harm within Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

As part of the TGAP, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) worked alongside other agencies to increase community relations, community confidence in the police and ultimately tackle gang and gun crime through a mix of problem-oriented and intelligence led policing, developing and implementing intervention to prevent further incidents rather than merely detecting and punishing perpetrators (Bullcok and Tilley, 2008 p.37). This project was based on the Boston Gun Project which was 'associated with a rapid decline in the number of fatalities caused by the use of guns and knives (Kennedy et al 1996 cited in Bullock and Tilley 2008 p.38). In the Boston project 'workers communicated to the gang members which kinds of violent behaviours would not be tolerated...if gang members engaged in these, law enforcement would flood the areas conducing a range of enforcement activities' (Braga & Kennedy 2002 cited in Bullock & Tilley 2008 p.38), 'this acted as a deterrent in itself, but it also provided incentives for gang members to control one another's behaviour...(also) a range of service would be offered to gang members such as educational provision or diversionary opportunities.' (Braga & Kennedy 2002 cited in Bullock and Tilley 2008 p.39). The original aim of the Manchester Project was to 'deter violence through highly publicised multi-agency crackdowns' (Bullock and Tilley, 2008 p.40) however the project drifted towards tackling the social determinants of gang membership rather than the situational determinants of shootings by 'identifying gang members or those at risk of becoming involved and developing preventative and diversionary interventions' (Bullock and Tilley, 2008 p.41). The GMP established the Xcalibre Task Force concentrating on intelligence, enforcement and prevention. Intelligence is used to identify and track gang members to establish who poses the largest risk. Building on the intelligence legislation is used to restrict gang member's movements and activities. After two fatal shootings in January 2008 GMP launched Operation Cougar. This involved an increased police presence on the streets and in correlation gang activity decreased significantly. Operation Cougar also proactively identified those showing behaviours, or were in a location at a time of day which may make them a victim of gun crime. These youths and their parents were issued with a letter of concern which detailed services offered under the Manchester Multi-Agency Gang Strategy (MMAGS), which included a 'combination of one-to-one working with gang members... addressing gang membership in places of education... providing structured intervention plans and the delivery of a... cognitive behaviour programme'(Home Office, 2008 p.17). If these youths continue to endanger themselves they may be moved to a place of safety by returning them to their homes or into the care of social services. Operation Eagle is another example of the police working alongside other agencies. The police executed 105 firearms search warrants and 21 searches of gang member's homes. 25 people were arrested and 4 firearms seized (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.55). At the same time the police worked with other agencies including the MMAGS distributing leaflets explaining how to access support services.

All of these measures provided gang members with the opportunity to either leave the gangs or face the police, who showed strict enforcement. This differs from the lines of the original Boston Project however measures do need to be tailored to the specific communities and context in which they are implemented.

A similar approach was adopted in Birmingham by creating a multi-agency group. West Midlands Police implemented enforcement through the means of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO's) and s.222 of the Local Governments Act 1972. S.222 was used to exclude individuals from certain areas 'so that they could no longer exert influence, trade drugs or intimidate residents there' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.60). ASBO's were also used to establish exclusion zones and limit an individual's ability to pursue gang activity. West Midlands Police's use of s.222 was however stalled when a high court judge ruled that it was an unlawful use of this power (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.61). After receiving an ASBO some gang members did enter gang exit programmes which offer housing, counselling and employment support (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.60). In Birmingham a mediation service was also introduced however this was totally independent of this police. This service aimed to 'unite disparate and fractured groups that were locked in a cycle of violence by bringing them together to identify and work through the conflict' (Golding & McClory, 2008 p.63).

Both of these cases have attempted to tackle gang and firearms issues through intervention and enforcement in the short term and in the long term through educating young people and building community confidence.

TGAP was seen to have 'delivered real results' (Home office, 2009 p.20) and the Government hailed it a success. The Home Office draws attention to the 17% reduction in firearms offences in 2008/09 compared with 2007/08 (Home Office, 2009 p.6) however a closer analysis questions this success. The number of offences per month decreased by 27% during the TGAP period (Dawson, 2008 p.3) however in previous years there was a 30% reduction (05/06) and a 4% reduction (06/07)(Dawson, 2008 p.3/4). There seems to be no clear trend with these figures and it may not be possible to attribute this reduction to the programme. The number of monthly recorded firearms related injuries for all four areas also fell by 51% during the TGAP period (Dawson, 2008 p3). Reductions had also occurred in previous years however they were dramatically lower. When firearms offences are analysed by each individual area of the programme a mixed picture appears. Both the London and Greater Manchester Police Force areas experienced reductions in firearms offences however Birmingham and Merseyside saw an increase. Squires et al (2008) argue that the overall gun crime reduction claimed by TGAP is 'largely attributable to the falling rate of gun crime in London alone' (p.43). This raises great doubt over the success of the programme. There may however be many explanations for these differences. Firstly the number of guns may be limited and may move from one police force to the other meaning that when one police force has raised offences the other decreases. Alternatively it is possible that some of the police forces involved already had a better footing, for example GMP already had knowledge of their local gangs and their territories. The difference in results could also be accounted to the different methods adopted by each police force. To link the reduction in offences to the TGAP programme in Manchester, figures show that only 10% of the "target list" re-offended (Brand & Ollerearnshaw, 2006 p.17) and this provides evidence that the MMAGS and its Intervention plan may be attributable for the reduction in offences. Birmingham's failure could be attributed to the s.222 being taken away as it was reported that gun crime did rise after the courts banned its use (O'Neill 2008).

In this essay I have shown how the recent trend in gun crime involving young people is linked to the emergence of a gang culture with youths joining gangs for protection, to commit criminal offences and to raise their status in society. Recently police approaches have recognised the need to address the social and psychological factors through multi-agency programs as legislation and enforcement alone did not deter youths from carrying firearms and although the success of the TGAP have been questioned the case studies of Manchester and Birmingham do provide evidence that engaging with gang-members and those at risk of gang membership is beneficial in gathering intelligence and in providing a route out of gangs. In Manchester a very low re-offending rate was seen after intervention by the multi-agency group and in Birmingham youths did take advantage of the exit programmes. I would propose that even if only a few youths use these services they have been successful as lives have potentially been saved. I have proposed possible explanation for the lower than expected results in some cities. A multi-agency approach also makes police enforcement appear more just. I would conclude that police approaches are effective in reducing gun crime involving young people however there is room for improvement and the theme of short-term measures to reduce immediate harm and long-term measures aimed at tackling the causes of youth gun crime and gang membership need to be built upon, tackling gun crime from all angles.

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