Manchester police form first LA-style 'gang squad' to tackle growing menace

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The Independent Online

Britain's first Los Angeles-style "gang squad" is being set up in Manchester to tackle the growing menace of organised groups of violent youths.

The rising violence was graphically illustrated at the weekend by the shooting in Moss Side of a 15-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire of a turf war.

Jessie James' headteacher at Manchester Academy, Kathy August, told yesterday how the school held a series of assemblies to remember the pupil - who police said was an innocent victim "in the wrong place at the wrong time".

She said: "Our focus for today is remembering Jessie and ensuring that each of our girls and boys is supported by the academy."

"We've been able to speak together about Jessie and his achievements at school. Jessie was a very likeable boy who was trying hard to succeed in his GCSEs. We had high expectations of him, and I know that he shared these. We are grieving at the school because every single one of our children is unique."

Detectives from Greater Manchester Police are well aware of the resurgent gang problem in the city. Earlier this year, a group of officers travelled to Los Angeles to learn how the US police have tackled the gang epidemic that has been responsible for nearly 800 murders in the past five years.

At least one gang in Manchester - the Old Trafford Cripz - has already copied the name and graffiti used by the notorious black Crips gang of Los Angeles. Police believe there are up to 500 active gang members in Manchester. The new gang unit will gather intelligence on the Manchester gangsters, who include Somalis.

A team of Manchester detectives will adopt tactics used by the Los Angeles gang squads. They will including using a list of tell-tale signs to identify each gang, such as the colour of clothing they wear and use of graffiti, as well as assigning an officer to each gang, who can be used as an expert witness in court.

Michael Todd, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said: "We have had gang problems in Manchester for years and years. We have now ended up with Somali gangs moving into the areas where you have black gangs, white gangs, which is causing even more tension than before. We decided to set up a gang unit to help tackle the problem.

"I think we can learn an awful lot from Los Angeles in terms of mapping, identification and how to deal with the gang members."

The Manchester gang unit will cover the areas of Moss Side, Longsight, and Trafford, where the majority of the gangsters are based. The city has long-established gangs, such as the Doddington and Gooch Close outfits but they have splintered into rival outfits, including the Young Gooch and the Longsight Crew.

Gangs from new communities have also started to form, including a Somalian gang called the Somalian Mandem.

The gangsters tend to concentrate on robberies, car-jacking and drug dealing. They have also been "taxing" Jamaican "Yardie" crack cocaine dealers by forcing them to hand over a share of their drug profits.

Acting assistant chief constable Dave Jones, head of Greater Manchester Police crime operations, who led the team that visited the Los Angeles Police Department, said: "I'm glad our problem is nothing like they have in Los Angeles - they are in the middle of a war."

There are an estimated 150,000 gang members in more than 1,400 street gangs in Los Angeles County.

Mr Jones continued: "The thing we were most interested in was the intelligence work used by the police in Los Angeles. What we want to do is to fill the intelligence gaps. Our officers will work full time on the streets getting to know all about the gangs. We want to fill in the intelligence gap and map the areas where the most dangerous gangs operate.

"It's also about diverting youngsters away from the gangs and a life of crime."

Manchester was nick-named "Gunchester" more than a decade ago when several, predominantly black, gangs vied for supremacy. Moss Side was the scene of much of the violence, which spread across the city to Longside and north to Cheetham Hill. The main rivalry was between the white "crime firms" of Salford, which were interested in protection, and the predominantly black gangs from south Manchester, who ran drugs.

At the height of the "Gunchester" era, 27 people died and 250 people were injured over five years. Five gang members were jailed in February this year after the Doddington and Gooch Close gangs clashed.