On my division we have a gang problem. This is an occasion when I have to admit that the intel units and desk weenies were right and we were wrong. Four years ago they were telling us the gangs were rising and we had a growing problem.
Most officers on the street laughed at this. We knew most of the lads, the so called "gangs" who were just disorganised groups of disenfranchised youths hanging about outside the corner shops.
This has changed. The stabbings and shootings prove this. The stabbings are more and more frequent, sometimes multiple stabbings a week - sometimes multiple stabbings in a shift. And these are the reported ones, the vast majority don't come to the attention of the police until unofficially afterwards. Either the gangs have grown up nasty, or we just didn't see them coming.
If course, we're the idiots payed to get in the way of it.
It has started to pray on more and more officers mind in my team. I can tell this, not through the serious chats we have (they don't exist). I can tell this by the tone of the jokes, by the officers suddenly becoming acutely aware of exactly how many units we have on the street at any time, the fact that we are starting to wait for back up to certain calls (and still end up outnumbered and calling for urgent assistance) and by the fact that more and more I am seeing reluctance by us to get out of the car and "get in the faces" of large groups of people we know to be violent and armed.
A conversation we regularly have in the team is "I don't understand why these lads..." Insert the chosen topic here.
The thing is - I can understand being in a gang. It's what I do. I'm in the biggest gang in the area, although our gang doesn't have the numbers on the street like some of them do. It can be a little hairy when you're battling two fighting gangs, and you know for a fact that each of them numbers more than the entire available officers on the street.
But I know the attraction of being in a gang. When I call for help, when I press the orange button and shout for more units, I get a rush hearing the two tones. I get the biggest buzz at seeing my colleagues screeching tyres, leaping out and running up to assist me.
I get a buzz when someone else puts out an urgent assistance, and I see every officer drop their food, leave their wallets, their kit, their paperwork, their mobiles, and run for the first police car they can grab.
I know what it's like to have my "homies," and I KNOW they got my back.
I even like our tag - the flash of blue lights, the flickering of strobe. Our tag doesn't last as long, but when I see it reflecting off the wall at 0200hours in the arse end of town, I feel better. I feel like I belong, and we ARE the biggest and best.
So we have homies, we have our tags, we have our colours (mainly dark blue), and have our tunes (nee nar...). So I understand these gangs.
What I don't understand is beating the crap out of people, of large scale group robberies, of carrying weapons on the street for fun. Maybe I'm just getting old...
PS - For a laugh, read this blog - it's a collection of comments from the BBC news "Have Your Say" website. Hilarious, although maybe NSFW.