When politics gets in the way of policing

THE crisis surrounding how to tackle increasing criminality within Scotland’s Asian community is one that sees the need to imprison those who threaten the fabric of our society overshadowed by politics and the spectre of police racism.

In 2002 the creation of Operation Gadher, a dedicated crime-fighting effort established on the South Side of Glasgow to confront Asian gang culture in the city was seen by many detectives within Strathclyde Police as a much-needed step in the right direction.

Those officers who drove through the establishment of the unit believed strongly that addressing the problem "head on" would finally give the police the very thing they needed most - a foothold in the battle against Asian gang crime in Scotland.

Yet in October last year, to the astonishment and dismay of many senior policemen, Operation Gadher was stood down, barely 12 months after it was first set up.

Although it remains unclear who made the final decision to stand down the operation, the reason behind it was clear: a police team focusing solely on Asians sent out the wrong message. In these racially sensitive times it was quite simply "politically incorrect".

Anger over the decision was made all the worse by the positive publicity surrounding Operation Trident, a Metropolitan police inquiry that had successfully targeted "black-on-black crime" in London.

For detectives in Glasgow, Trident was a perfect example of how a police inquiry into ethnic minority crime should be carried out. At the centre of the Scotland Yard initiative was a huge public relations campaign designed to win the support of the city’s black community leaders, including MPs, councilors and religious figures. Public meetings were held across London’s boroughs explaining the reasoning behind the operation and a record number of black officers were involved in the inquiry.

From the outset the Metropolitan Police, who had been accused of "institutionalised racism" in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence case, set out their stall - the inquiry was not about targeting blacks but targeting serious crime and protecting the community.

Although not on the same scale as the problems experienced with London’s ethnic minorities and gang-related crime, since the mid-90s experienced uniformed officers plodding the beats that dissect the multi-racial Pollokshields area of Glasgow had reported distinct and troubling generational shifts in the city’s Asian population of 100,000.

Asian gangs were involved not only in large-scale smuggling rackets involving the sale of illegally imported cigarettes, confectionery and alcohol, they had crossed over into the drugs market, using contacts in Pakistan to import heroin and were establishing relations with well-known Glasgow underworld figures.

The issues surrounding Asian gang culture in Glasgow entered mainstream consciousness in March this year following the murder of Pollokshields schoolboy Kriss Donald. The 15-year-old died after he was allegedly abducted and tortured by members of an Asian gang.

At the time, Strathclyde Police superintendent Kenny Scott, the deputy divisional commander for the south of Glasgow, refuted claims that Asian gang culture was on the increase. He said: "I wouldn’t even say there is a growing gang culture in that area. There are groups on a Friday night, but it’s no worse than any other area."

Those within the Asian community disagree. Osama Saeed, the Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, recently described the young Asian men’s subculture in the South Side of Glasgow as one of the most "confounding" aspects of Scottish culture.

He said: "Young Asians don’t feel part of this culture, and they don’t feel part of their parents’ culture - from India or Pakistan. So, they buy into a black gangster culture."

According to Mohammed Sarwar, MP for Govan, growing gang-related crime and violence amongst the Asian community in Glasgow remains one of his biggest concerns. He said: "It seems to me there is a growing culture of youth gangs."

Dr Sajid Hussain, the editor of Scotland’s Oracle, a newspaper based in Pollokshields, believes the experience of young Asians growing up in the city has dramatically altered since the 1970s. He also claims that generational shift as much as ethnic divisions are at the root of the area’s problems and that the gap between Asian teenagers and figures like Mohammed Sarwar has become a yawning generational chasm.

He said: "People like him do not understand the new generation. They are not community leaders as such any more - half of the young people round here would not know who Mohammad Sarwar is. The third generation of Scottish Asians, teenagers, are struggling to get a handle on their identity."

How to tackle this generational shift is a problem both for the police and Scotland’s Asian community.

But it is clear that the void being left by inaction is being filled by the kind of criminality that could damage race relations in a much greater way than is comprehended at the moment.