The Herald

300 ‘booze and blade’ gangs blighting Scotland

Numbers revealed for first time

- DAVID LEASK david.leask@theherald.co.uk

SCOTLAND now has at least 300 organised street gangs, police chiefs revealed yesterday as they launched a nationwide crackdown on “collective violence”.

I n t e l l i g e n c e o f f i c e r s h ave mapped and assessed groups across the country for the first time, exposing a territoria­l culture of “booze and blades” that is putting thousands of young people at risk.

Steve House, Strathclyd­e’s Chief Constable, yesterday said his area alone had 167 of Scotland’s gangs, more than half of the total, the bulk of them in and around Glasgow.

T he new figures, from the nationwide Violence Reduction Unit, are the most robust ever calculated and come as senior police officers become increasing­ly aware of the threat from gangs.

A spokeswoma­n for the unit said: “Although police have intelligen­ce on these gangs, not all of them will be engaged in ongoing violent behaviour.

“Some will represent a high risk, others a medium risk and some a low risk, and this will vary from area to area and time period to time period. Not all 300 will be active and high risk at the same time.”

Most gangs are highly territoria­l and made up of teenage boys. In some areas, officers admit, membership is handed down from father to son.

Mr House yesterday stressed that some gangs had graduated from fighting with other “schemes” to acquisitiv­e crime, often to finance the drink and drugs that fuel their lifestyle.

He cited one west of Scotland gang that chalked up 448 crimes in just 11 months. He said: “That is 13 crimes per gang member. And that’s just the crimes we know about.

“Every one of these crimes has a victim. There are decent people being blighted by these crimes.”

Mr House declined to name the gang – but it fits the profile of one of the bigger territoria­l groups that have operated in Glasgow for decades.

The chief constable was yesterday quick to claim the latest crackdown is more than just a shortterm blitz. The move, timed to cover the run-up to the Easter holidays and the usual start of Scotland’s gang-fighting season, will mobilise extra officers across the country. Mr House said 600 of his own deskbound officers would go back on the streets for at least one day during the month.

Senior officers, however, yesterday stressed they wanted to move beyond enforcemen­t – although youths can expect more stop and searches, more CCTV and more scrutiny over the next few weeks.

Officers and colleagues from other agencies will target the one in four young people on the cusp of gang membership in the most troubled areas.

They want to find ways to separate the 20% to 25% of boys on the fringes of gangs from the young men – perhaps 5% of the total population – who make up their core. They will do so with “diversiona­ry tactics”, everything from street fivea-side football to music and drama.

Mr House said: “The extra police officers are not a one-off and this campaign is not a short-term fix. We are in this for the long haul.

“This is not just about throwing resources at a problem. There is a lot of background, intelligen­cegatherin­g work being done and officers will be working where specific problems have been identified.

“People in gangs will not be able to hide, we know who and where they are and, when necessary, we will use the full force of the law to de-glamorise, divert, detect and disrupt, this disease that has blighted communitie­s, particular­ly in the west of Scotland, for generation­s.”

Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, last month committed £200,000 to diversiona­ry projects.

John Carnochan, the detective chief superinten­dent who heads the Violence Reduction Unit, stressed that most of the battle against gang membership was core police business. “It’s not about the size of the cheque,” he said when asked if the new government money was enough.

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