Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer
Search the University of Manchester siteSearch Menu StaffNet
Search type

Study urges rethink of how gangs are policed

01 Apr 2011

The police should rethink ‘outdated and stereotypical’ assumptions about the way gangs define their turf if they are to reduce crime, according to a new report by researchers from The University of Manchester.

The team, who worked with six gangs in a UK city over a three year period, say their findings bring into question the effectiveness of recently introduced gang injunctions, dubbed ‘gangbos’, which focus on gang members congregating in public places.
Members, they found, attached little importance to graffiti - which police and local authorities regard as a way of marking out their turf.

Police associated many young people with gangs purely by where they lived, even when they did not define themselves as members. Those who were members often lived outside what are seen by police as home turf.

Contrary to the popular view, gang names were sometimes actually coined by the police and then adopted by the gangs themselves, before being recognised more widely within communities and the media.

And gangs had moved from open drug dealing to closed and less visible activity, creating an intelligence vacuum.

Also according to the research team, ‘gang members’ were elevated by the authorities  to a level of risk that was often disproportionate to their offending profile.

The study is published as a chapter in a book called 'Youth in Crisis' published by Routledge this month.

One of the authors is Dr Judith Aldridge, from The University of Manchester’s School of Law.

She said: “The policing of gangs is based on an outdated assumption that the ones in most need of policing are territorial, street-based entities.

“Actually, the gangs we studied had greater mobility and fluidity than that: members resided in areas across the city and even beyond the city’s boundaries.

“Despite no longer organising around the sales of drugs in open markets, substantial resources are centred on policing them in ways that seemingly fail to take account of these changes

“Heavy policing of public places, legislation prohibiting gang members from gathering in public places, court-mandated curfews and a global trend for young people to spend more time indoors - and especially online – may all contribute towards a less conspicuous street orientation for gang members than was the case in previous decades.”
Gang members, they found, tended not to protect or guard territory, and rarely fought over control of territories defined as markets for illicit earning opportunities, such as the drugs trade, even though many participated in drug sales - especially cannabis.

Dr Juanjo Medina from The University of Manchester added: “Spray-painted gang names or symbols are taken as marking out boundaries and, in particular, the police tend to treat new graffiti as evidence of gang activity.
“But we found no evidence that graffiti was symbolic of gang identity in any meaningful sense for young people actually in gangs.”

Dr Rob Ralphs, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University lecturer said: “A significant percentage of the young people we encountered who were identified by police as ‘gang members’ or ‘gang associates’ would strongly deny this label.
“Yet once labelled, they were over-policed, excluded from school and community events and viewed as posing an elevated serious risk based on potential firearms access.”
He added: “There is a misconception that firearms are relatively  cheap at £200 - £300 but in our experience, firearms are scarce and cost between £2,000 - £4,000.
“Of those young people deemed to be ‘gang associated’, I would estimate that less than 10% would have the means to use a firearm.”