Natricia Duncan, Voice Writer
LONDON MAYOR Boris Johnson has appointed a new 'gangs czar' to help tackle violence in the capital. Former deputy mayor Ray Lewis, who was forced to quit the post in 2008 over allegations of financial misconduct, was given the special brief in addition to his role as mentoring adviser.
The appointment follows an Evening Standard Frontline London campaign, which highlighted issues around the city's gang culture. City Hall currently spends £3 million a year on funding 25 gang prevention and diversion projects, but is planning to do more. The newspaper has partnered with young people's charity, Kid's Company, to help ex-gang members turn their lives around by backing them to establish and grow viable social enterprises. The initiative has already awarded three £10,000 start-up grants from the Dispossessed Fund.
Lewis has called for a gangs' summit in the spring, and attended a round table at City Hall on October 25 to bring together thinkers and community leaders to address the issue. United States gangs expert Professor Philip Leaf was the keynote speaker. The experienced youth worker told the Evening Standard that its focus on the issue had helped shine a spotlight on it. He said: "Boris regards tackling gangs as a top priority and has asked me to be his gangs czar. Your initiative has highlighted the need for more targeted prevention work, and that much more needs to be done."
Deputy mayor Stephen Green-halgh said: "We have this issue of extreme violence on the streets in pockets of London, and that is where I am looking to Ray. "If you live close to those pockets of extreme violence, it takes away all your life, liberty and happiness. It is shocking and it has shocked me deeply."
A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) said: "Tackling gangs and helping to steer London's vulnerable young people away from crime is a key priority for the mayor and that is why MOPAC has set up a gangs panel to focus specifically on these issues. The panel will be chaired jointly by the deputy mayor for policing, Stephen Greenhalgh and the mayor's mentoring advisor, Ray Lewis, who brings years of expertise working with young people through his Eastside Academy. The spokesperson added: "The panel will bring together the police, key stakeholders and voluntary sector groups, and its findings will feed into the London Crime Reduction Board and inform City Hall gang policies."