Western Europe's first national research centre for gang crime opens in London
Western Europe’s first national gang research has opened in London.
Dr Simon Harding, Professor of Criminology at the University of West London, is heading up the National Centre for Gang Research (NCGR).
The centre aims to study youth violence and its causes and help provide advice and research to the discussion about violence and gangs on the UK’s streets.
One of the key issues that Dr Harding wants to address is the use of social media by youngsters and the influence it has on gangs and youth.
Knife crime in the capital has reached a record high, according to the Office for National Statistics.
At a launch event on Wednesday, Dr Harding described social media as a “21st century problem bridled with 20th century structures”.
Tucked away in a side parlour of the Palace of Westminster, the professor spoke to a crowd of other academics, police, former gang members and those who work with people in or at risk of joining a gang.
He told them: “In previously times when there was a gang fight we would hear about it on Monday morning in assembly. Not any more.
“It’s now going to be live streamed to your phone, and young people will be able to view this while they are sitting in their classroom, and it’s going to want to make them get up and run out.”
Dr Harding has spent 35 years researching crime and community safety in the UK and has worked on over 2,500 housing estates.
He has advised the Home Office, Metropolitan Police and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, among others.
He talks to gang members, he rides on the back of mopeds and he wants to make a difference.
On Tuesday evening while MPs voted just metres away on whether to have an election or not, Dr Harding painted a bleak picture of the online cultures surrounding crime.
“Young people I’ve interviewed say they feel ungoverned,” he said of the current climate.
“Their spaces are ungoverned and unpoliced and they feel unsafe,” he said of social media.
He added: “That stressful world is something they live in 24/7. It is with them when they go to bed and when their phones are on continually.
“And they say and they feel it is a world not understood by adults.”
The professor said: “We face a 21st century problem bridled by 20th century structures. 20th century practices, 20th century organisations.
"These are culturally siloed, operationally slow, unresponsive, unmodernised, unadjusted, out of date, technologically ill-equipped, inefficient, and unsuitable.
"We need a radical new way of working to address this. There is no single solution – but many different solutions which must work together in concert.”
Dr Harding says that the lawless world of the teenage internet landscape leads to paranoia, fear and mental illness - and that this progresses to violence.
Uncertainty about who is a “real gangster” and who is just posing online leads to can lead to brawls being started, he said.
People speak in web forums of “reach being king” and try to get the longest blade to carry and speak of gaining points by stabbing people in different parts of the body.
On the subject of drill music, which has been blamed for a rise in violence especially in London, Dr Harding has a mixed view.
He said: “I’m often asked if drill music is a poetic representation of the lived experience of young people or something that generates violence or revenge.
“And the answer is both. It does both of these things, simultaneously.”
The NCGR will be hoping to bring in all parties concerned the rise in violence to help find solutions to the violence.
Dr Harding also wants to bring in frontline practitioners who work on a daily basis with those involved and at risk of crime.
It is something common in the US, but not seen on this side of the Atlantic.