It’s an unenviable reputation, but Birmingham is once again being flagged as the gun and gang capital of the UK.
In recent years the city has witnessed the biggest rise in knife crime outside London – and has had more than double the national average for gun crime, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Already this year West Midlands Police officers have arrested more than 50 gang suspects and recovered more than 60 firearms as a result, the force said.
As well as the arrests, a combined sentence of nearly 200 years has been served to 18 gang members since 2016.
No wonder, then, that law enforcement authorities are now comparing their battle with the region’s notorious street gangs as “urban guerrilla warfare”.
Such militaristic terms are not out of place – indeed the police have deployed tactics used to spot enemy snipers in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan on the mean streets of Birmingham’s gang heartlands.
In 2010 West Midlands Police piloted the Shotspotter – a technology devised by the US military which involved secretly placing ultra-sensitive audio sensors high up on buildings.
They were meant to detect a gunshot and send its location, in an alert, to police officers.
But they were taken down two years later after police admitted the devices had an 85% accuracy rate and could detect a gunshot only within 25m.
Despite such cutting-edge tech and ground-breaking initiatives, the flagrant use of firearms continued to rise and last year West Midlands Police received 672 reports of gun crimes last year with 187 reports of a gun actually being fired.
But former gang member turned community activist Simeon Moore thinks the true figure is probably twice that number.
Simeon, known as Zimbo, raised in the volatile Aston area of the city, said: “There’s gun shot going off in the city practically every day and its massively under-reported.
“Nobody in the community will call the police and the cops themselves are often too scared to attend reports of gun fire.
“I remember having shoot-outs where the whole street would be full of smoke from gun fire but no officer ever turned up.”
He added: “There’s lots of out of the way spots where people would practice firing their guns.
“One popular makeshift firing range was under Spaghetti junction where the motorway traffic noise drowns everything else out.”
Having turned his back on a life “on road”, Moore believes so-called gangsta rap and Drill music perpetuate the myth that guns and gangs are cool and glamorous.
He said: “Radio and TV stations play tunes where the gang life is being bigged up and the kids believe it.
“Everyone today wants to be a gangsta and the wider media is largely to blame for that.
“The gangs today are chaotic. There’s no structure or loyalties and they are fearless.
“People are shot and stabbed to death today over the slightest incident and not necessarily over money or drugs.”
Birmingham’s gang problem has traditionally been concentrated in the north-west corridor of the city, where established groups like the Burger Bar Crew and Johnson Crew are based.
Their decade-long feud over drugs and territory lead to a series of tit-for-tat execution-style murders culminating in the tragic death of two teenage girls who got caught up in crossfire on New Years Day 2003.
In an exclusive poll for HuffPost UK, 46% of the city’s residents said they felt the city had become less safe in the last year, and more than half of the people polled admitted they felt no safer walking around their neighbourhoods than they did last year.
The mother of one of the drive-by victims, 18-year-old Charlene Ellis, thinks the problem has actually stretched on consistently for 15 years.
Beverley Thomas also blames parents for their “culture of denial.” She said: “Many feel it happens to others, not their own children, but sometimes I think parents themselves are setting up their children to fail if they dress them in expensive branded goods from day one.
“The children expect this as they grow older and then turn to a gang lifestyle in a desperate bid to finance it themselves.
“Some parents need to take back ownership of their homes and families.
“When I go to my daughter’s grave I look around the cemetery and see so many names of young people who have died through what I call this ‘gun disease.’
“They are like fallen soldiers.
“These young people need to be pulled back because sadly violent street crime is on the rise again in Birmingham – we have had several deaths in recent months.
“I don’t want more families to suffer in the way we have. It’s been a long, hard journey for us all since 2003.”
But the gun and gang crime epidemic has in recent years spread to the south of the city around Northfield, where open gang warfare culminated in a summer of violence last year when firearms were discharged in record numbers, according to the West Midlands Police Gang Unit.
The emergence of ultra violent young gangs in the south included the Frankley Killers, the 247365, the 61s and the 23 Drillas.
Detective Sergeant Al Teague, from the West Midlands Police Gangs Unit, said police are taking active steps to bring them down.
He said: “I believe gangs in other areas of the city had seen an opportunity to expand into the south side of Birmingham.
“It was vulnerable and they’ve seen an opportunity and gone in there and in order to assert themselves in the area they had to to use extreme violence.”
He added: “The problem we face is the gang scene today across the city is very fluid and chaotic. At times it’s like wrestling with smoke.”
HuffPostListens – Birmingham
HuffPost wants to get out of the media bubble and tell the real story of the UK. For one week we relocate our newsroom to the heart of Birmingham and invite people to tell us what they care about - we will go and report on it. We’re also hiring more reporters out of London, starting in Birmingham. We don’t think the media has listened to people enough, so that’s what we’re doing. Listening to the stories of Birmingham, opening up our newsroom to its people and telling the real story of Britain from the heart of one of its biggest and best cities. You decide the news. We’ll tell your story. Birmingham, be heard. #HuffPostListens
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
• Visit our open newsroom at the Bullring and tell us your story: Unit SU734 - The Newsroom, Upper East Mall, Bullring, Birmingham, B5 4BG
Opening times: Mon-Friday: 10am-8pm, Sat 9am-8pm, Sunday 11am-5pm
• Find us across the city on mobile “Listening Posts” and tell us your story:
Birmingham Moor Street Station
Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham City Centre, Marks & Spencer
• Email listentobirmingham@huffpost.
com, or WhatsApp +44 7534 044 578 and tell us your story
• Join our Facebook group and tell us your story
• Visit huffpost.co.uk from Monday and read your stories there