Evidence that gangs aren’t taking lockdown, lying down
A month ago, headlines claimed “Gang life ‘has stopped’ because of COVID-19” ; warning police forces to expect gang operations and violence to resume again once the lockdown measures are lifted. But a steady number of ultra-violent attacks continue to be reported in inner cities and newspaper headlines now report novel new ways that gangs are finding to deal drugs.
And we shouldn’t be surprised. UK street gangs have shown in the last 15 years an ability to evolve and innovate the way they do business. The 2,200 county lines that exist in England and Wales, where inner city gangs export drugs to rural areas using young people as dealers, are testament to that.
Gang life is constantly evolving. Gang members have to adapt to new threats posed by competitors and to be highly flexible to manage the tensions created by increased competition within the gang itself. Gang elders are constantly re-evaluating their strategies and local connections to keep their business models viable. In the recent past, gangs have started to recruit young girls and women to hide weapons, drugs, and money as they are able to maintain lower profiles and effectively say off radar. Gangs have started to coerce local children and rural addicts who are more likely to blend into town and village life, while trading drugs.
So, it is no surprise that gangs are posing as joggers and food delivery drivers in order to trade in lockdown. More sinister is the ability to clone NHS staff passes allowing gang members to pass themselves off as essential workers, evidenced by an increase in reported robberies and muggings of NHS workers coming off shift early in lockdown. Gangs have found a way of moving freely around our major cities at a time when most are staying at home.
And there is evidence that gang members are changing their tactics to avoid infection by doing letterbox drops or “drive-by sales” and throwing drugs from car windows after arranging deals by phone or online. “Money is also being tossed on the back seat during the deals to keep items clean” reports Professor Harding, director of the National Centre for Gang Research (NCGR) at the University of West London.
The impact is being felt by those in lockdown. Services like the ‘Ask Us About Gangs’ Programme in Waltham Forest, part of the borough’s violence reduction partnership, has seen an increase in contact from parents struggling to keep gang-connected children at home or to handle their child’s increased recreational drug use in the home and facing an increase in violence as their child reacts. The scheme’s volunteers are also hearing from young people who are under pressure from gangs to continue running drugs to areas of the borough where dealing is still taking place.
Those in the frontline of gang and violence reduction cannot afford to furlough their crucial work at the current time and critically, why funding for gang and violence reduction initiatives must continue when coronavirus is on the backfoot and governments start to assess the cost of staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives.
 Waltham Forest Violence Reduction Partnership – see https://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/content/violence-reduction-partnership