Does Chiswick need a Law Enforcement Team like Hammersmith?

Image above: Officers for Hammersmith & Fulham’s Law Enforcement Team

Chiswick’s neighbouring borough has a special unitary team to help tackle anything from shoplifting to littering

Last week The Chiswick Calendar spoke with dozens of traders along Chiswick High Road, Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road and discovered a dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick’s shops.

The Daily Mail followed up with a piece headlined:

‘Fortress Chiswick: How affluent suburb that is home to rich and famous has fallen victim to terrifying crime wave.’

Shop owners, managers and sales assistants told me they felt intimidated and vulnerable by the actions of some of these brazen thieves, many of whom are “regulars” who are known to police and shopkeepers already.

READ ALSO: Dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick shops

Traders said they felt totally abandoned by local police and are having to take the defence of their shops into their own hands, looking for ways to tighten their security measures independently.

Shops are now hiding or disguising valuable stock, operating a locked door policy letting only a few people in at a time, or considering hiring private security services to deal with the rising ride of shoplifting and anti-social behaviour.

Chiswick has neighbourhood community police, but traders say they are not available enough to tackle the issue of theft in shops.

How do neighbouring boroughs deal with shoplifting and other forms of criminal anti-social behaviour?

Hammersmith & Fulham set up a dedicated Law Enforcement Team two years ago – a group of uniformed officers paid for by the council, who offer a level of support against shoplifting and tackling antisocial behaviour that Chiswick does not have.

On Monday (21 August) I went out on patrol with the central Law Enforcement Team in Hammersmith to find out how they work.

Images above: LET officer Darran Reece and senior LET officer Junell Rahman, inside Hammersmith and Fulham’s CCTV control room

A new way of working 

In April 2021, H&F Council created the Law Enforcement Team (LET), which is one of the largest such teams anywhere in Britain.

It is a ‘unique’ group of men and women acting as the council’s eyes and ears as they seek to drive down environmental crime and anti-social behaviour. The ‘number one priority’ of the LET is to help keep H&F’s residents and visitors safe.

Junell Rahman, Senior Law Enforcement Officer for LB Hammersmith and Fulham told me:

“It was a combination of all the services, Hammersmith and Fulham council had a load of different departments. We had parks police, neighbourhood wardens and we had environmental street scene people so we combined all of those services into one.

“We found we worked better as a combined service and can deal with more of a variety of issues that’s raised with residents and businesses.”

The service comprises 72 uniformed staff who patrol the borough day and night, seven days a week in three shifts: an early shift which is between 7.00am-3.00pm, a late shift between 1.00pm and 10.00pm and a night team which works from 8.00pm until 7.00am. Usually the officers during the day work alone, and work in pairs in the evenings.

LET officers link in with Hammersmith BID (Business Improvement District) and the borough’s CCTV control room to help track shoplifters, deter crime and address other issues, anti-social or otherwise.

Any offences committed are communicated by security staff via radio to H&F’s CCTV control room and help coordinate police teams to apprehend the offender. Between August 2022-2023, the CCTV team assisted with 90 incidents involving shoplifters in the Hammersmith Broadway and Livat/King Street area.

The officers have a broad range of enforcement powers, though they do not have the power to arrest. Officers can, among other things, obtain the name and address of offenders, deter any drink or drug use, patrol areas where drug dealing is suspected to provide a deterrent, issue fixed penalty notices for littering, tag abandoned bikes for removal, engage with and make referrals for rough sleepers or beggars, enforce by-laws and public space protection orders, support local businesses… and deter anti-social behaviour.

Images above: Graph showing crime distribution in Hammersmith and Fulham – where reported instances of shoplifting increased from 3.84% in 2020 to 3.89% in 2022 (left), contrasting graph showing crime distribution in Hounslow – where reported instances of shoplifting jumped from 2.43% in 2020 to 3.32% in 2022; source Crimerate.co.uk 

Does their presence deter shoplifters?

Junell said “being visible and present” really helps to deter would-be shoplifters and other types of anti-social behaviour. He added their linkups with the CCTV control room in Hammersmith helps them to “diffuse the situation… or stop it from happening” should an issue arise.

But without the power to arrest, how are they able to diffuse the situation?

“So we don’t have powers of arrest and anything to do with criminal activity has to be forwarded to police but we support that. We’re the eyes and ears of the police, things that we record on our body cams as well as what we see – we give statements to the police and that helps take their workload off.

“Smaller issues such as the regular street drinkers, drug users, we sort of engage with them and as they see us out and about they’ve come to know us and what we do and they’ll either disperse from the area or stop the activity that they’re doing.”

Recently in Chiswick, a group of travellers parked on Chiswick Back Common and local traders reported they went on a shoplifting spree in the shops on Turnham Green Terrace. Traders also complained about individuals and groups of shoplifters who regularly stole from traders.

I wondered whether LET officers had assisted in any similar situations.

“Recently we have been contacted from a number of businesses that are having issues, based opposite a hostel. The hostel users are very into begging or stealing from the shops. So we have been sharing intelligence with what the businesses are finding, speaking to the businesses and seeking the images or descriptions of the regular [shoplifters] so they can put names to faces…”

Has that led to any arrests?

“Not that we’re aware, they [the Met] don’t make us aware of that. They just make us aware of anyone that’s been issued public protection notices or warnings not to be in certain areas. We have been successful in working with the police in issuing number of public protection notices that prevents them from coming into this area or into shops…”

What do shops think?

‘They are helpful’

Image above: Ryman on King St in Hammersmith

I spoke with a few shops to see whether they thought LET officers were useful in any meaningful way. Sonia Sangha, Store Manager of Hammersmith Ryman Stationary on King St – which is not inside either of the shopping centres, said:

“They try to chase them, they find them through the CCTV and then obviously report them to the police.”

The shop, Sonia said, has a radio to communicate directly with LET officers.

“They are helpful [in deterring shoplifting]. The volume of the radio, when we radio them, does seem to deter [shoplifters] because they can hear we are telling someone that they’re stealing.”

Image above: Forhad Siddique inside Superdrug Hammersmith Broadway

‘Not remotely’ useful

The shopping centres in Hammersmith have their own security staff.

Forhad Siddique, assistant manager of Superdrug in Hammersmith Broadway shopping centre, told me he usually seeks help from the security guards in the shopping centre. He said LET officers “just come in, pass through and then they leave”.

A security guard working in Boots on King Street was a bit more scathing about the LET officers. He said the officers were “not remotely” useful.

“All they did was catch me smoking once and while I was being fined half of Boots was being stolen. So no, I think they’re a bunch of jobsworths, policing on the cheap doesn’t work… they may as well pack it in and become a landscape gardener.”

The security guard, who clearly had a bone to pick with the officers, added:

“Private security do an amazing job. But these are repeat offenders and there’s a lot of regular drug users who are doing it. I saw a woman taking her trousers down so she could inject her legs with heroin in front of Boots as I was closing… that’s how severe the problem is.”

Other local councils interested in “success” of Hammersmith’s LET

Junell said there have been a lot of other councils who have been taking an interest in what Hammersmith’s Law Enforcement Team is doing.

“Theres been a lot of borough councils visiting interestingly, because now we’re two years into the role and we’re established and we’ve had lots of positive responses.”

He believes on the whole introducing LET officers has been a success.

“It definitely has, we have seen a lot of low-level crime issues resolved and we even deal with a lot of environmental measures like keeping the streets clean”

Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council told The Chiswick Calendar:

“We have taken the view that keeping people safe is always our first priority. In recent years, we have invested the largest ever amount into fighting crime and its causes and are spending more each year.

“To support the police, we have added a 72-strong H&F Law Enforcement Team. They patrol our streets, collect vital intelligence, initiate actions when crime hotspots emerge, and crack down on crime.”

Police Superintendent for Hammersmith & Fulham, Craig Knight, said:

“They are a valuable contribution to the local authority, to the local community – as a visible presence in that community. They bring valuable intelligence, they bring valuable local accountability. And certainly, I welcome those.”