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Basic information on street gang phenomenon

Street gang defined by the Police

The Police definition of street gangs refers to groups associated with certain urban neighbourhoods, with several active identified individuals and defined hierarchies and leaders. The groups underline their neighbourhoods when they have dealings with the Police, and also in their postings in the social media. Moreover, the groups often also use symbols based on the name of the neighbourhood or the respective postal code. 

These groups may have violent clashes with each other, and they are also prepared to resort to serious violence in their confrontations.  It is typical of the groups that they are involved in criminal activities, such as drugs trafficking, and their attitude to organised society is either indifferent or straight-out negative.  The jeopardy they may cause to the rest of society is of no consequence to them.

The members of the street gangs are typically either of age or almost adult. The phenomenon differs from the violence among under-age young people. Street gangs also differ from organised criminality. However, the Police is concerned that each of the separate phenomena may end up feeding each other. The under-aged committing crimes may find their way to street gangs which may, in time, turn into organised crime unless society intervenes with the phenomenon.

The majority of the street gang members are either first or second generation immigrants. The core of the gangs is often rap culture which idealises violence and a criminal way of life. The gangs’ inspiration is drawn from foreign idols. In fact, the Police is involved in international cooperation in this regard, mainly with Sweden and Great Britain.

Is this a wide-spread phenomenon?

There are about ten recognised street gangs that meet the Police definition (in November 2022), and their operations are centred in the Helsinki metropolitan area, even if there are signs of a wider distribution. The young in the gangs commit crimes both in groups and alone, and there are some hundreds of cases of crime committed by the gang members. In fact, it is still a fairly small whole in comparison to the about 800 000 crimes in the annual Police statistics.

What should be done now?

According to the Police, the main reason for the young to end up in the gangs include social marginalisation and lack of vision for the future. Intoxicant abuse and health problems may also cause the young to be lured by the gangs, and therefore the measures to prevent gang formation are taken mainly by other actors, not the Police.  Indeed, it is vital to prevent new young people approaching the gangs by decreasing the attraction of their criminal way of life and by offering options to find a place in society.

The Police takes the prevention work seriously but the action by the Police alone is not sufficient. Cooperation between various authorities and other actors is required. From the Police perspective, the objective is to prevent the phenomenon from becoming more serious and established, and to break the cycle of violence and other crime.

The Police finds that their preventive work is most efficiently focused on the young who rotate around the gangs and who are attracted by the criminal way of life. The Police is involved in relevant multiprofessional cooperation, for example in the preventive anchor (Ankkuri) operations.

The objective of the Police is to prevent the gang phenomenon from aggravating and becoming established, and to break the cycle of violence and crime in the making, by using the power and competence available to the Police. The Police seeks to identify the budding cycles of violence and to cut them before they start to grow, to investigate detected crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. 

Further on the topic

Blog by Deputy National Police Commissioner Sanna Heikinheimo (in Finnish) 

Anchor-work in Finland (you're going to a new website)