Over the last couple of months, you have read about the death of Jordan Thomas in December 2014.
The details discussed during the trial may well have led to you to ask questions about gang culture in Sheffield. Is it an issue? And what are police doing to keep you safe?
To begin with, let me reassure you that we have dedicated and specially-trained officers working tirelessly to tackle organised crime and to keep you and the ones you love safe from harm. Of course there is crime in Sheffield – it is the fourth largest city in the country and we’re not immune to criminal activity here. However, we do not consider gang crime to be a major problem here and we have invested a considerable amount of time and resources to tackle the issue.
Currently, Sheffield has a number of identified and recognised gangs operating at all levels of criminality, ranging from low-level antisocial behaviour to serious acquisitive crime, drug dealing and firearms offences. The gangs operate across various geographical areas within the city and consist of members ranging from their teens through to their 40s. The gangs’ ultimate aim is to profit and benefit financially, however their ‘street status’ also plays a big part.
If you went back 10 years in Sheffield, the picture would look very different. Between 2005 and 2010, there were 62 serious and fatal firearm offences in Sheffield. In the last five years, between 2010 and 2015, there have been 30 – a reduction of more than half. But we’re not complacent – 30 is still 30 too many and we’re working every day to reduce this further.
We’ve become more sophisticated in recent years in how we deal with these groups; we take time to understand what they do, who they are, and why they’ve begun a pattern of offending. A huge amount of time is invested to preventing this sort of crime. We visit schools and speak direct to our young people before they’ve started on this path. By educating them around the realities and consequences of being a part of one of these groups, we can hopefully prevent them from becoming involved.
Research tells us that simply punishing people by sending them to prison does little to prevent them reoffending. That is why we invest a considerable amount of time to preventing offending in the first place to break the cycle. We work with the local authority, the Probation Service, Children’s Services, and with the judiciary to prevent organised crime.
We pay close attention to an offender’s lifestyle, their housing situation, whether they have any children who could be at risk and need safeguarding. We look at every aspect of their lives and do everything within our power to stop their offending and the impact it has on others. We sometimes work with our partners to stage an intervention with them and their family members – whether that’s providing them support in drug rehabilitation or providing support to find work. Showing an offender that there is another way to live and another path to take can sometimes make all the difference but, ultimately, they have to want to make a change for this to have any success. The types of people involved in gang activity does depend on the geographical area, but offenders often come from families with a history of crime, of low economic status, and often live in deprived areas. Their motivation often relates to issues around territory and retribution for previous acts of violence, or perceived offence caused by an opposing group.
We want to break the cycle of criminality and we will use both overt and covert techniques to stop offending. Through our work, we aim to manage and control their activities using the legislation available to us – including criminal behaviour orders, gang injunctions and antisocial behaviour powers.
A gang injunction is a civil tool that allows police and local authorities to apply to the courts for an injunction against a person to prevent gang-related violence. The orders allow police to put restrictions on people known to be involved in organised violent crime. Restrictions include curfews, use of mobile phones, associations with other people and the use of certain routes. Anyone who breaches an injunction appears before court within 24 hours and would probably face jail. We are currently considering implementing a number of gang injunctions in Sheffield and will work with the courts to ensure we’re doing all we can to keep people safe.
Right now, we have teams of specialist officers in Sheffield working to keep you safe. These are officers with a great deal of expertise and dedication, from uniformed PCs to specially trained detectives.
Fatal shootings are thankfully rare in Sheffield and the death of Jordan Thomas was so shocking because we do not see this sort of thing happening in our city very often. We won’t pretend that Sheffield does not face the same issues any other major city in the UK, but there are men and women working tirelessly everyday to make Sheffield safe for those who live in and visit our city.
Joel Hanna, youth justice service manager at Sheffield City Council, added: “Gang violence is not a major problem in Sheffield and this is largely due to the hard work that is being undertaken constantly by our partnership working with South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Futures and the many community groups across the city.
“Gang violence is damaging to families, communities and individuals and can have devastating consequences. Through our joint effort we have successfully accessed expert support and funding from the Home Office Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme to develop and embed this work and help keep communities safe from gang violence.
“Much of this was invested in community and voluntary organisations to build resilience, which is a fundamental part of our partnership strategy and approach and we are one of a number of areas which still receives on-going support from the Home Office. There has also been significant investment made in the city to working in partnership with our safeguarding children’s services, youth services and the Youth Justice service specifically.”