UK – Police track down absent fathers to save children from gangs

Absent fathers of young criminals are being tracked down and persuaded to take responsibility for their children in a new attempt to tackle gang culture.

The joint council and police scheme is being run in Waltham Forest to target 100 of the borough’s most dangerous gang members. Already one absent parent has agreed to take an active role in his son’s life after being told that the boy is a gang member.

Details of the scheme emerged as one police leader criticised the “piecemeal” approach to tackling London gangs. Cindy Butts, a prominent member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said: “I think there has been a very sporadic approach some local authorities have seen the challenge and embraced it but others are reluctant to do so. It has been very patchy.

“There has been no consistency. I think the Met fought hard to even get local authorities to accept gangs were a problem. Their efforts were hampered by the reluctance of local authorities and politicians to accept the problem.

“I wonder if the Prime Minister would be talking about gangs if there had not been four days of looting around the country. I doubt it.”

She urged both City Hall and the Government to take a more co-ordinated and consistent approach to tackling gang culture, adding that there was a view among some politicians that the problem was confined to certain communities and that it would go away.

The Met’s gang initiative, codenamed Operation Connect, is being run in conjunction with the local authority in Waltham Forest. It aims to persuade gang members and their families to give up crime. If they don’t, police employ an “Al Capone” style approach to target gang members for even the smallest crimes, such as failing to have a TV licence.

The Met plans to roll out the scheme to all boroughs with a gang problem in the next few years. So far, the 30-strong Connect unit has made 70 arrests in Waltham Forest and seized drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds.

One innovative aspect of the project is the attempt to persuade absent fathers to take on a role in their children’s lives.

Superintendent Adrian Hutchinson, head of the borough’s anti-gang squad, said: “We believe that by strengthening families, we have a better chance of changing a young person’s life.

“The local authority identifies where an absent father is and tries to persuade them to take a more active role which can be something as simply as taking them to school or helping with their employment.

“Simply reconnecting absent fathers with their children can give them a sense of direction.”

The Connect project has identified 28 Waltham Forest families with children who are in gangs, and who they believe are in need of extra support.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim Champion, also of Connect, said that more than 1,000 of London’s most dangerous gang members would be targeted by the operation.

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