Hounslow Council Leader “open for discussion” about borough-wide enforcement team to tackle theft and antisocial behaviour

A review of how the Council carries out enforcement is already under way

Leader of Hounslow Council Cllr Shantanu Rajawat has told The Chiswick Calendar he is “open to discussion” about a borough-wide enforcement team to help protect shopkeepers and the public from theft and antisocial behaviour.

When LB Hammersmith & Fulham set up their Law Enforcement Team of uniformed officers they first of all carried out an enforcement review, looking at what types of enforcement there was already in place in the different council departments, including Parks, Licensing and Planning, before pooling their resources to create a central team.

“We are in the throes of doing that now” he told us. “It’s a massive undertaking, but I started it when I first took over as leader. We are looking at how we carry out enforcement and whether we need a borough-wide team.

“It is a big problem not only in Chiswick and it is very much on our radar” he told us.

Politicians, both national and local, react to the rise in theft

The issue has come to the fore because there are so few police prosecutions for low level crime. The Home Secretary has told the Police she wants them to investigate every theft and to use evidence from smart doorbells and dashcams to solve lower-level crimes. New guidance on investigating such crimes is to be issued to all forces in England and Wales.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday (28 August), Suella Braverman said it was “completely unacceptable” that criminals were often “effectively free to break certain laws”. Home Office figures show that in the past year just 4.4% of all theft offences resulted in someone being charged.

The Chiswick Calendar highlighted the extent of the problem of shoplifting in Chiswick two weeks ago with a special report by Matt Smith based on conversations with many of the High Rd’s shopkeepers. Over and over again they told him they received no help from the police. One said: “theft is effectively legal now in Chiswick”.

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

The national media picked up on our story, with follow ups in the Daily Mail and The Times, both in the news pages and in Jenni Russell’s column, and also on James O’Brien’s LBC show.

Chiswick councillors back idea of a Law Enforcement Team like Hammersmith & Fulham have

After our follow-up piece last week looking at how LB Hammersmith & Fulham support their shopkeepers with a uniformed Law Enforcement Team, suggesting maybe it was time Hounslow did the same, Chiswick’s councillors have backed the idea.

READ ALSO: Does Chiswick need a Law Enforcement Team like Hammersmith?

READ ALSO: Politicians, both national and local, react to record level of theft

In a statement released by Chiswick’s Conservative councillors on Hounslow Council on Friday (25 August) they said:

“The team could patrol Chiswick High Road, Turnham Green Terrace and other hotspot areas, and officers would have the power to issue fixed penalty notices for anti-social behaviour, report abandoned bikes for removal, enforce public space protection orders and obtain the name and address of offenders to coordinate with police officers.

“Law Enforcement Officers would also be issued with body-cameras, and would act as a visible deterrent to potential criminals.”

Chiswick’s only Labour councillor, Amy Croft, has also given it her backing “in principle”.

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

Hounslow Council examining feasibility of a central enforcement team

Various Council departments have enforcement officers in their team. Some, such as Trading Standards officers, Planning and Environment, whose officers are concerned with issues such as noise and air pollution, have quite specialised areas of expertise. Some have statutory obligations. Others, in areas such as the Parks department, have less complicated roles.

The role of Enforcement officers in the Parks department is to make sure the byelaws are adhered to regarding issues such as litter and the riding of bikes in the parks. Parking is another example of a department which already has enforcement officers, although parking enforcement is contracted out to Serco.

Hounslow already has a ‘community safety’ team. “These are not people who would be recognisable to you in the street, but they work with businesses and talk to the police and pick up trends in the borough. They are internal team picking up data and trends in Hounslow.

‘I wish Chiswick’s councillors had come to me first with this rather than just going straight to the press.  It hasn’t been highlighted to me that the problem of shoplifting in Chiswick is as starkly serious as you have reported. I haven’t had any approach from them directly.

“Even though you may think nothing will be done about it, I would say to shop owners that it is always worth reporting crime because it’s the data that tells us the extent of the problem.”

“I can’t commit to extra budget right now. Money is very tight”

He was aware, he said, that it was a big problem in other parts of the borough. Primark in Hounslow town centre in particular is a frequent target for shoplifters. Hounslow town centre has recently been given additional police resources because that comes from a budget which is earmarked for antisocial behaviour that targets people rather than merchandise.

The review of enforcement is still at the “scoping and discovery phase” Cllr Rajawat told us. “What are the pros and cons of keeping enforcement in separate departments versus a central team. It’s not just a question of saying ‘let’s do it’. It’s complicated.

“If you take people out of their existing teams and put them in a central unit then you have the question of whether you should train them all to do everything.”

He has talked to Hammersmith & Fulham’s Leader Steve Cowan about their scheme. Would he commit extra funding to create a team like theirs?

“I can’t give a financial commitment at the moment. Money is very tight. I am in the process of trying to balance the budget for next year. Whatever we did would need to be a borough-wide solution and we are a much bigger borough than Hammersmith & Fulham with a lot more people.”

“The recent spate of retail crime in Chiswick is extremely worrying” says Ruth Cadbury MP

Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford & Isleworth, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“The recent spate of retail crime in Chiswick is extremely worrying, not least for the shop staff who are at risk should they try to challenge thieves and are disappointed at the apparent lack of effective action by the police.”

Ruth recently carried out her own crime survey amongst residents. Two years ago she noticed an increased number of cases into her office about anti-social behaviour. According to ukcrimestats.com there were 7,123 incidents of antisocial behaviour in the Brentford and Isleworth constituency in 2020/21 compared to 3,867 in 2019/20 – an increase of 84%.

It was noticeable during the periods of lockdown that antisocial behaviour shot up locally and this reflected the pattern nationally. The results of her recent study were “more shocking, more worrying” than the previous one she had carried out in 2019, she said.

She had over 300 responses to her crime survey, and 35% of those who had responded had been victims of crime in the previous 12 months. One constituent had said to her:

“We are scared to walk outside alone, we are scared to wear a watch, we are scared for the safety of our children.”

Ruth initiated a debate in Parliament last month about crime in west London. She told the House:

“There is a sense that this is a country where certain forms of crime simply happen without any consequence.”

She agreed with Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter that a lot of this is because there have been big cuts to the police budget in London.

“In the noughties we had five community police for each ward, but they have been cut to less than half that” she said.

READ ALSO: Ruth Cadbury initiates debate in Parliament about crime in west London

She told us: “I am glad that since I raised my concerns about the recent rise in shop crime in Chiswick with senior police officers they have acknowledged the problem.”

On the prospect of a Law Enforcement Team paid for by the Council she said:

“Whilst a dedicated team for the Chiswick High Road area would be nice, I fear that Hounslow Council does not have the resources after 13 years of government cuts to their budgets.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar