More than 200 held as Met Police crack down on gangs
More than 200 people have been arrested during raids across London by the Metropolitan Police's new dedicated unit tackling gang crime.
The Trident Gang Crime Command, which consists of about 1,000 officers, will monitor gang activity and work with London boroughs.
The unit, thought to be the largest in the country, will have 19 dedicated gang crime task forces.
More than 300 raids have been taking place across the city since dawn.
The Met said it had made 213 arrests so far and executed 171 warrants. The operation involved about 1,300 officers.
Officers also seized items including 1kg of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, firearms, ammunition, CS canisters, stolen mobile phones and £34,000 in cash.
The unit includes officers working for Operation Trident, which investigates gun crime in the black community.
It will deal with shootings and work more closely with boroughs to proactively tackle gang crime.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said hundreds of officers would track down and arrest suspected gang members believed to be involved in crimes including assault, robbery and drugs supply during the raids.
"The bottom line is, if they're offending, then we've got to arrest them," he added.
BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw said it was the most significant operational decision made by Mr Hogan-Howe since he became Met commissioner five months ago.
Mr Hogan-Howe said: "This is a step change in how we tackle gang crime in London. It will allow us to identify and relentlessly pursue the most harmful gangs and gang members. It will help us identify young people on the periphery of gangs and work with partners to divert them away.
Guy Smith, BBC London Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday morning's raids and arrests, we are told, are not just about waving a big stick at gang members.
Of course the Met wants to send out a strong message, that they will come down hard on those who continue violent lifestyles.
But there are no quick fixes. It is far more complex than just policing.
It involves social workers, housing officers, drug experts, teachers and help with getting a proper job, not such an easy thing these days.
There are successful examples of steering people away from a life of crime, for instance Waltham Forest Council funds a programme focusing on families with children in gangs.
About 250 gangs have now been identified in London.
The Met boasts it is the biggest gang in town, with more than 32,000 officers.
And the unveiling of a new anti-gang strategy is a more muscular approach by a new commissioner.
Cynics though might raise an eyebrow at the timing - in May Londoners will be voting on who will be their next mayor.
The current mayor, Boris Johnson, is firmly attaching himself to this show of strength.
"Although we are now nearly doubling the number of officers dedicated to tackling gang crime, the police cannot do this alone. It is vital we work with the public, local authorities, charities and other agencies to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place."
He also told BBC Breakfast that the police have to deal with the consequences of gang crime.
"So where they're hurting people, we've got to first of all stop them, or if they do we've got to make sure we arrest them.
"It's not our aim to criminalise young people, our aim is to stop people getting hurt, and if you can get them out of gangs by working with partners then we will do that.
"There is an awful lot of good work going on through mentoring, through giving professional skills and getting employment for young people where we can get them away from the gangs."
According to the Met, there are an estimated 250 active criminal gangs in London, comprising about 4,800 people. Of these gangs, 62 are considered as "high harm" and commit two-thirds of all gang-related crime in the capital.
These range from criminal networks involved in class A drugs supply and firearms to street gangs involved in violence and robbery.
The Met said they were responsible for about 22% of serious violence, 17% of robbery, 50% of shootings and 14% of rape in London.
Det Ch Supt Stuart Cundy, head of Trident Gang Crime Command, said: "This new approach is a significant change for Trident as it now leads the Met's response to gang crime, but rest assured Trident will remain focused on preventing and investigating all shootings in London, regardless of the victim's or perpetrator's background."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "Now the Met has a concerted and determined push to take out the ring-leaders and tempt impressionable youngsters away from this destructive life.
"They [gang members] face two options; either we will persecute them and get in their faces or they can take up a traineeship. This is the way to go."
Claudia Webbe, joint chair of Trident Independent Advisory Group, described the unit as "a political gamble" taken by the mayor.
"I can only hope that the success that Trident has had over the years in bringing the men of violence to justice and the community spirit from which Trident emerged in the first place are not thwarted or in some ways destroyed", she added.
Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick said: "There is a danger that this new Trident unit detracts from the serious problem of gun crime and gives gangs a status they don't deserve.
"The mayor has already allowed police officer numbers to fall by 1,700, and this is another 1,000 officers taken off the streets."
Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate, said: "I will back the police's work to tackle gangs by reversing Boris Johnson's decision to cut 1,700 police officers from London."
Jenny Jones, who is the Green Party candidate, said: "The new approach will fail if it is all stick and no carrot... the best solution to gangs, violence and knives, is a job."