CC Cooke discussed the history of street gangs in Liverpool from the High Rip Gang and Cornermen of the 1880s to the Amercianisation of the youth yob culture with The Strand Gang, Croxteth Crew and Nogga Dogs.
This led to an evolution of policing on Merseyside to tackle the problem and reassure the community.
CC Cooke said: “Merseyside as a metropolitan area is not alone in this problem, but in many ways we are now unique in the chaotic behaviour of the predominantly young men engaged at street level.
“Young guns were taking over from crime lords and , from a strategic perspective, Merseyside was faced with a frightening cocktail of gun toting youths who would use a firearm without consequence, and drug lords who still reserved the right to use the gun to resolve turf wars.”
In response CC Cooke was charged with developing a co-ordinated response, which led to the launch of The Matrix a specialist unit that brought uniformed officers and detectives together to tackle gang violence.
It has a multi-agency approach using education and diversion as part of their tactics, establishing a hard-edged stance to the problem and was successful from an early stage.
But after trial and error CC Cooke admitted that a zero-tolerance approach doesn’t work, alienating some communities and resulting in the criminalisation of predominantly young men for minor offences.
CC Cooke said: “One of our tactics, which remains today, is to identify individuals who are creating the greatest threat and legally harass them, offering them the carrot should they choose to move away from gang culture then we could provide them a better offer.
“Gun crime is not just a police problem, it is a deep-rooted societal problem that requires a complex and co-ordinated multi-agency response.
“If there is one certainty, it is that while enforcement is crucial we will never arrest our way out of this problem.
“If we build stronger communities that are intolerant to the levels of violence and chaos that this criminality brings, then we start to break the cycle.”
CC Cooke spoke about breaking the cycle of child development, were pupils isolated from the classroom for disruptive behaviour meet other pupils in a similar position and form a disenfranchised group.
Over time these children may fail to attend at all, making them vulnerable to manipulation by criminals. He asked the audience to consider the scale of the potential supply to street gangs with around 16,000 children persistently absent from schools on Merseyside every day.
He said: “When home is a place where there is no love, no food or real security and the gang is a place which is offering this, then it almost becomes an easy choice for the young vulnerable person who is seeking their way of life.”
The war on gangs in Merseyside is a constantly evolving battle and while there have been successes in areas like Stockbridge Village, Huyton, Norris Green, Croxteth, Granby, Toxeth and Anfield, the challenges continue to rise in areas of North Sefton and South Liverpool.
As part of the ongoing strategy officers have developed investigations that focus on the recovery of guns to remove the capability of offenders including the seizure of a firearm that originally started life in Scotland, but had been used 19 times on Merseyside.
CC Cooke also highlighted the success of gang injunctions, with findings from Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies (LCAPS) lecturer Richie Carr recently published in the Cambridge Journal for Evidence Based Policing showing 70 per cent of members with gang injunctions do not reoffend.
But he highlighted that the final strand to tackling the war on guns and gangs would be to reduce the problem overtime, so that when there is a violent incident the community reacts with shock rather than acceptance.
CC Cooke said: “Moving our communities from a position of acceptance to a position of active assistance in dealing with this issue is, I believe, Merseyside’s biggest policing challenge over the next decade.”