David Jones  /  AP
Youths run from an electronics store in Birmingham, England, on Aug. 9. As Britain comes to grips with the causes of the past week's descent into anarchy, Prime Minister David Cameron has identified the growth of gangs as a key factor and is recruiting high-profile American anti-gang experts to help bring them to heel.
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updated 8/14/2011 12:30:38 PM ET 2011-08-14T16:30:38

The Burger Bar Boys. The Cash or Slash Money Crew. The Bang Bang Gang. These names might sound straight out of a dime-store novel, but they're real-life Birmingham gangs — underground armies that spearheaded England's worst riots in a generation.

As Britain comes to grips with the causes of the past week's descent into anarchy, Prime Minister David Cameron has identified the growth of gangs as a key factor and is recruiting high-profile American anti-gang experts to help bring them to heel.

While senior British police officers openly resent that move, analysts of gang culture say it seems logical to seek American assistance, because today's British gangs consciously ape American gang ambitions and style, from the bling to the lingo.

They talk in a street patois shaped by U.S. rap lyrics, use noms de guerre lifted straight from American gangster films and crime dramas, and choose such icons as Don Corleone, Al Pacino's Scarface or Baltimore ganglord Stringer Bell of "The Wire" TV series as their avatars on social-networking sites.

"These teenage gangsters are creating their own criminal worlds, and in their minds it's very much an Americanized world. When they talk about the police, it's 'the Feds,' or 'The 5-0,' as in Hawaii 5-0," said Carl Fellstrom, an expert on England's gangs and author of a recent book on the topic, "Hoods."

British law enforcement authorities admit that, until only a few years ago, they sought to minimize the scale and violent potential of their homegrown gangs. They promoted their preferred label of "delinquent youth groups" and billed full-blooded street gangs as an American phenomenon.

In the wake of the August riots — when gangs used text-messaging to deploy break-in artists to breach steel-shuttered shops — politicians now use the "G" word pointedly.

"Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, the gangs are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes," Cameron told the House of Commons in an emergency debate on the riots. "They earn money through crime, particularly drugs, and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader. They have blighted life on their estates, with gang-on-gang murders and unprovoked attacks on police."

In Birmingham, a reporter took a drive through the contested turf of its working-class west side, a hodgepodge of cramped red-brick rowhouses and gray-concrete 1960s tower blocks where rival Caribbean and Indo-Pakistani gangs long have been at odds. Their feuds have sparked at least four riots since the 1980s.

The police were there too, raiding the home of a gang member believed to be storing loot from the week's gang raids on convenience stores and hi-fi shops.

At one corner, a teenage boy in hooded jacket and green bandanna — color of a predominantly Caribbean gang called BMW, short for Birmingham's Most Wanted — was keeping an eye on "the Feds" as they pounded in the front door of that house and charged in by the dozen in search of stolen electronics and fashion-label clothes.

Such raids have become common sights in gang power bases since rioting subsided Wednesday. The BMW foot soldier texted his gang leader the police's location, using heavily abbreviated code that the "5-0" was raiding the house of an enemy "cru."

The boy, initially hostile to a reporter's questions, warmed up when asked about the cost of a black-market plasma TV.

"It's sale of the century down that end. Everything must go," he said, pointing to a nearby residential cul-de-sac in the opposite direction of the police raid.

The gang's pilfered TVs, he said, were going for one-tenth of their sticker price, and locals were paying in cash in back alleys beyond the reach of Birmingham's network of CCTV cameras. He added with a cheeky smile: "We don't take Visa, but we do home delivery."

Turf wars
English gangs often defend their turf down to the curbstone. Many even attach the postal codes of their district to gang names. They also mark territory with wavy-lettered graffiti of tribal identity that would look at home on a Los Angeles highway underpass.

Virtually every spot on the English map that suffered riots is home turf to one or multiple gangs, according to an interactive online map called London Street Gangs and related gang-mapping efforts by the Metropolitan Police and University of Bedfordshire youth-crime expert John Pitts.

One riot spot, Enfield in north London where a Sony distribution center was ransacked, hosts a half-dozen active gangs including Dem Africans, Red Brick Crew and Gun Man Down. The south London borough of Croydon, scene of the worst arson attacks and the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man, is the power base for the Don't Say Nothin gang.

While the wide-open shops in London inspired citizens from all walks of life to loot, police say gangs formed the theft-savvy vanguard. CCTV footage of certain riot zones clearly shows groups carting off goods with their faces hidden by gang-branded bandanas, baseball caps and jacket hoods.

The north London borough of Tottenham, where the fatal police shooting of alleged gang member Mark Duggan on Aug. 4 triggered the first riot two days later, has at least a dozen gangs rooted in the vicinity.

Duggan was a reputed member of The Stars gang in Tottenham and a relative of a major crime family in Manchester, northwest England. Police say Duggan, 29, was transporting a loaded Italian handgun hidden in a sock at the time of the police ambush. His last recorded words were a text to his pregnant girlfriend: "The Feds are following me."

Roy Gisby, who helps manage a London-wide charity called In-volve that tries to steer youths away from drugs and gangs, said how the violence spread from Tottenham demonstrated the hallmarks of gang direction. The lead rioters in attacks on shops brought cars for both getaways and carrying heavy loads, and deployed members using preset gang text lists to tie down police, he said.

"It's gang-led, no doubt about that," said Gisby, 59. "Look at what happened in Tottenham. The youngsters were kept in the streets there to riot, while the older ones went north to rob Enfield. It might've looked like chaos, but there was an order to it."

In Nottingham, the city of Robin Hood fame, gang members wearing the red bandanna of one of the city's biggest gangs, St. Ann's Posse, tossed gasoline bombs at a police station before ransacking a sportswear store. The following night, the city's other major gang, the Radford Boys, showed up in their black bandanas to lob Molotov cocktails at their turf's own police station, too.

"Radford didn't like that their big rivals were getting all the media attention, so they had to put on a show of force too," said Fellstrom, whose book focused on Nottingham gangs.

A national study by the Home Office, responsible for law and order in England, estimates that 6 percent of all boys and girls aged 10 to 19 — or around 50,000 people — are members of gangs. They're sometimes recruited by older gang members to serve as drug couriers, making deliveries by bike with little risk of being stopped by police, just as in the United States.

Weapons behind bloodshed
The starkest difference between British and American gangs is the firepower. In gun-control Britain, only the bigger gangs make firearms — smuggled in with drugs shipments from Holland, North Africa and the Caribbean — their weapon of choice. For U.K. teenage apprentices and wannabes, the knife is still king.

Most of the more than 5,000 stabbings a year in Britain, according police and social workers, are gangs attacking rivals who strayed into their areas, muscled into their rackets, or simply insulted them.

Already this year in London, eight teenagers have been stabbed to death. One wouldn't hand over his cell phone. Another was stopping a bicycle-borne gang from chasing his younger brother.

Such bloodshed pales in comparison to the epicenter of gang culture, Los Angeles, where an estimated 90,000 gang members have been blamed for the majority of 297 murders last year. The LA gang model is the world export leader, with chapters throughout the United States and Central America. Dozens of British gangs brand themselves as L.A.-style Crips and Bloods, too, although no true trans-Atlantic affiliation exists.

But even before England's August riots, gangs cast a bigger statistical shadow in London than in New York, where official crime figures last year recorded just 228 gang-related crimes — in a city that suffered 18,000 robberies and 532 murders. While experts there estimate New York's gangs to have around 17,000 members, they stick to business and discourage inter-gang conflict over turf.

"New York doesn't have clearly demarcated gang territories," said David Brotherton, a youth gang expert and chairman of the sociology department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

From 'Boston strategy' to LA's top cop
Britain's Cameron has just recruited the Los Angeles Police Department's former commander, William Bratton, to be his adviser on anti-gang tactics. Bratton previously commanded the police in Boston and New York, where his tactics were credited with greatly reducing gang-related bloodshed. Cameron and Bratton are expected to promote ideas pioneered 15 years ago in Boston by Harvard academic-turned-crime fighter David Kennedy.

Kennedy's "Boston strategy" seeks public meetings of police, probation workers, welfare providers, community residents, and a target audience of gang members. The discussions have been credited with delivering sharp drops in gang-related killings in Boston, Chicago and Cincinnati.

"It is now absolutely demonstrable that there is a better way to do this. There is a 15-year history in the United States in city after city after city. We don't think that London can fix its gang problem. We know it can fix it," Kennedy said.

While England has been slow to address its growth of gang culture, the gang-infested capital of Scotland — Glasgow — has already imported the Boston method.

Karen McCluskey, a director of Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit, in 2008 held her first Boston-style mass meeting with gang members in a Glasgow courthouse. She said gang members were shocked to learn the wealth of intelligence police held about them, appeared unaware of the range of help on offer, and were shamed by stories of how their behavior had terrified their neighborhoods.

McCluskey said her colleagues were skeptical that American anti-gang techniques could be imported meaningfully to Scotland, then watched Glasgow's gang-related violent crimes fall 46 percent in the past three years because of them.

"It's easy to say that the approach won't work here because of this difference or that difference," Kennedy said. "The one thing we've learned is that the differences don't make a difference."

David Stringer in London, Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles, and Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bratton in talks for UK riots advice

  1. Transcript of: Bratton in talks for UK riots advice

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: NBC News can confirm tonight, after a week of raging fires, riots, looting in the streets of London and beyond, Bill Bratton , former chief of police here in New York and LA and Boston , has been asked by the British prime minister to come on board as a consultant to work with the British government on controlling this kind of out of control mob violence.

Photos: Summer of 2011: Riots break out in UK

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  1. A double decker bus burns as riot police try to contain a large group of people on a main road in Tottenham, north London, on August 6, 2011. Masked youths went on the rampage after a peaceful protest against the killing of a 29-year-old local man by police. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Police officers wearing riot gear stand in front of a burning building in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Aaron Biber, 89, assesses damage to his hairdressing salon after riots on Tottenham High Road, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Residents watch as a building burns after riots in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A police officer patrols as firemen dowse buildings set ablaze during riots in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Police cordon off an area in Enfield, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Youths throw bricks at police in Enfield, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A girl is detained outside Currys electrical store in Brixton, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People loot a Carhartt store in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Police officers in riot gear block a road near a burning car in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A resident films a police officer on his mobile phone during disturbances in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Residents flee Clarence Road in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Dan Istitene / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A police officer helps an injured colleague as rioters gather in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An injured man is treated by medical staff after being arrested for looting in an electronic shop in south London on August 8, 2011. (Simon Dawson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Looters rummage through a convenience store in Hackney, east London, on August 8, 2011. (Olivia Harris / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Police clear an area in London's Ealing neighborhood while patrolling the streets on August 8, 2011. (Ming Yeung / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Looters run from a clothing store in Peckham, London, on August 8, 2011. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Police stand guard at the Mailbox shopping and hotel complex in Birmingham city center on August 8, 2011. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Police arrest a man as rioters gather in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A woman jumps from a burning building on Surrey Street during rioting in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Amy Weston / WENN.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Police patrol the streets as a large fire engulfs shops and homes in Croydon on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Firefighters battle a large blaze that broke out in shops and homes in the London neighborhood of Croydon on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The remains of destroyed vehicles are removed from streets in Hackney, north London on August 9, 2011. (Chris Helgren / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Aerial photograph of a Sony distribution center engulfed in flames on August 9, 2011 in Enfield, north London. The warehouse was set alight by rioters the previous night. (David Goddard / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Looters carry boxes out of a home cinema shop in central Birmingham on August 9, 2011. (Darren Staples / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. London residents launch a clean-up operation on August 9, 2011 around Hackney Town Hall in east London to clear up after the rioting that took place the previous night. (Nick Cunard / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Residents wait to be allowed through a police barricade to help council workers with the clean up after the rioting that took place the previous night outside Clapham Junction railway station in Battersea, London on August 9, 2011. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. An aerial photograph shows devastation in London Road, Croydon on August 9, 2011. (David Goddard / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A neighbor cries as she looks at the devastation left by the riots in the area of Clapham in London on August 9, 2011. (Elizabeth Dalziel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Police detain a man in central Birmingham on August 9, 2011. Looting and clashes with police continued for a fourth night. (Darren Staples / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A rioter walks through a burning barricade in Liverpool on August 9, 2011. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. London Mayor Boris Johnson, left, talks with Leon Fearon, right, 19, from Lewisham, during a tour of the devastation in riot-hit Clapham, south London on August 9, 2011. (Nick Ansell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Police restrain a man in Manchester on August 9, 2011 after trouble in the city center. (Dave Thompson / PA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Men angry about recent rioting and looting come out in Eltham, south London to protect their properties on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Hundreds of messages of support from the community of Peckham are seen posted on a looted storefront in south London on August 10, 2011. (Chris Helgren / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People clean up the Manchester city center on August 10, 2011 following a fourth night of violence. (Andrew Yates / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A police officer speaks to a woman in Birmingham on August 10, 2011 after three Asian men were hit by a car and killed. Witnesses said they died while trying to protect their community from looters. (Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Police officers question men during a routine stop and search operation on August 10, 2011 in Hackney, north London. An eerie calm prevailed over most of London as night fell, with a highly visible police presence throughout the city. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Police officers detain a man in Eltham, south London, on August 10, 2011. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Police officers search the crime scene where Haroon Jahan and two other Asian men were hit by a car and killed in the early hours in Birmingham on August 10, 2011. (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Tarmiq Jahan, father of Haroon Jahan, gives a statement to the media near the crime scene where Haroon and two other Asian men were hit by a car and killed in the early hours in Birmingham on August 10, 2011. (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Community members lay flowers at the scene of a hit and run following civil disturbances in the Winson Green area of Birmingham on August 11, 2011. Police are continuing investigations after three people - reportedly trying to protect shops from rioting and looting in Dudley Road - were struck by a car. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Metropolitan Police officers arrest a suspect after carrying out a raid on a property on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico in London on August 11, 2011 during Operation Woodstock. Police hope to recover property stolen during the recent civil disturbances in the capital. Police began raiding houses across London to make arrests over the riots that rocked the British capital, with more than 100 warrants issued already, a senior Scotland Yard officer said. (Anthony Devlin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Metropolitan Police officers hold bags containing a pair of Nike shoes and Hugo Boss clothing including jeans, shirts, a coat and a bag during a raid on a property on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, London during Operation Woodstock on August 11, 2011. Over 1,000 people have been arrested since rioting began Aug. 6. Police have started to raid properties across the capital as they round up people suspected of involvement in the rioting and recover stolen property. (Wpa Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Offenders sentenced for their roles in recent United Kingdom disturbances, shown August 11, 2011 in these photographs from the Greater Manchester Police, include (top, left to right) Aaron Grima, jailed for four months for assaulting a police officer; Paul Obonyano, jailed for 14 weeks for assaulting a police officer and a public order offense; Bernard Moore, sentenced to 20 weeks for assaulting a police officer; Eoin Flanagan, sentenced to eight months for stealing clothes; (bottom, left to right) Jason Ullett, sentenced to 10 weeks for a section 4 public order offense; Tom Skinkis, sentenced for four months for a section 4 public order offense; Ricky Gemmell, sentenced to 16 weeks in youth custody for a section 4 public order offense; and Paul Ruane, jailed for eight weeks for handling stolen goods. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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