Violence still a threat as police continue to tackle gang problem
Ipswich's policing commander has condemned gang culture for robbing childhoods and sending lives spiralling out of control.
Superintendent Kerry Cutler said tackling demand-fed drug supply was a “billion pound question” and that deaths would remain a daily possibility while dealers could exploit young people, but that gang culture need not be a life choice for those hooked in.
She was speaking as four men and a teenage boy were found guilty of killing Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Ipswich last summer.
“It’s a very real fact that, any day, we could see someone lose their life to violence,” added Supt Cutler, who was on the ground in Nacton Road after the death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens and among representatives to attend a public meeting in the wake of the killing.
She said the force had been aware of tensions between groups, and that a team was in place to tackle gangs, but that police could not be everywhere at once.
“People were angry that they hadn’t been supported and that services had been cut,” she said.
“I had a responsibility to listen. We still need to listen.
“Every organisation would welcome more staff, of course, but we have to invest in education, the right activities for young people, and when a young person gets in trouble, ensure we have a system which helps them get out of it.”
Supt Cutler said police would continue to target the drug dealers fuelling gang activity, adding: “It’s the billion pound question.
“I think my first arrest involved drugs and I’m still talking about them. As long as we have demand for drugs, people will supply them.
“We need to invest in services to support those addicted so we can break the cycle of demand, while making Suffolk a hostile place for dealers.”
Supt Cutler said she had seen young people hooked into gang culture by the false promise of glamour or a feeling of belonging.
“We have to create young people with resilience, confidence and aspiration, who know where to go to get help, and whose families know where to go to get help,” she added.
“They need a safe path to grow up. They see older members as friends, but we see it as similar to grooming. They may not even realise what’s happening to them.”
Often, said Supt Cutler, members are robbed by their own gang as a way of gaining control through an obligation of debt.
“This doesn’t have to be a choice for life,” she said.
Young people should be free to be young people without their lives spiralling out of control.”
Where can people wanting to flee gangs go for help?
Rachael Partridge covers the Ipswich East area as one of nine Suffolk community engagement officers deployed last summer.
Her role includes building relationships in the local community where Tavis Spencer-Aitkens was killed.
Although residents actively approach her for advice or to share information, she admits that may not be an option for some, adding: “We have to engage young people and give them a message that there is help and support out there. With my local links, I can signpost them, their parents, carers and wider family, who may be affected.
“But I want them to know that there are ways of remaining anonymous.
“Some of those young people might not necessarily want to come up to a police officer and ask for help.
“We have a dedicated web page for those wanting to leave gangs or seek advice. There are links on there to organisations like Fearless, which has an A-Z of anything they might want to find out.”