Drug gangs moving on to internet, claims Manchester study
The police view of how gangs operate is "outdated and stereotypical", according to a study by the University of Manchester.
Researchers worked with six gangs for three years in an unnamed UK city.
They claimed gangs are moving their drug-dealing off the streets and on to the internet and they urged police to update their approach.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said it welcomed any new research into gang culture.
The study by the University of Manchester research team is published in a book called Youth in Crisis.
The team spoke to members of six gangs but, because of a commitment given to protect their identities, said it was unable to say in which city they operated.
One of the report's authors, Dr Judith Aldridge, said the modern policing of gangs was based on an outdated assumption that gangs were "territorial, street-based entities".
"Actually, the gangs we studied had greater mobility and fluidity than that: members resided in areas across the city and even beyond the city's boundaries," she said.
The research also questioned the effectiveness of gang injunctions, dubbed "Gangbos", aimed at stopping gang members congregating in public places.
Dr Aldridge claimed the policing of public areas was in fact driving gangs "towards a less conspicuous street orientation" and drug-dealing and other criminal activity were moving online.
The view that gangs regularly fight turf wars to protect drug-dealing areas was also questioned in the report.
Gang members "tended not to protect or guard territory and rarely fought over control of territories", the study found.
Researcher Dr Junajo Medina added that police wrongly treated new spray-painting of gang names as evidence of gang activity.
"We found no evidence that graffiti was symbolic of gang identity in any meaningful sense for young people actually in gangs."
Fellow researcher Dr Rob Ralphs said the popular view that gang members could buy guns cheaply was also a "misconception".
He said firearms were "scarce and cost between £2,000 and £4,000".
"Of those young people deemed to be 'gang associated', I would estimate that less than 10% would have the means to use a firearm," he said.
The report concluded that police should rethink "outdated and stereotypical" assumptions about the way gangs operate if they are to reduce crime.
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers [Acpo] said: "Police forces work hard to reduce the ability of gangs to harm our communities, and we are continually looking to improve the service we provide.
"Acpo welcomes any new research that helps us to understand gang culture, and we will study this research carefully."