Police promise ‘to spend more time in Chiswick’ despite chronic understaffing

Image: Borough Commander Sean Wilson addresses the public meeting at Gunnersbury Triangle Club; photograph A. Nawrocki

Borough Commander Sean Wilson tells Gunnersbury residents his priority is to go after drug dealers

Borough Commander Sean Wilson, the Chief Superintendent who is responsible for policing in the whole West Area Command Unit encompassing Hounslow, Ealing and Hillingdon, was at a public meeting with Chiswick residents on Tuesday night (23 April) organised by Cllr Ranjit Gill at the Gunnersbury Triangle Club.

He said his policing priority was to go after drug dealers. He was pursuing them “big style,” as they are driving violence across west London and are the number one cause of homicides in 2024.

Addressing the lack of police on our streets, he said the Metropolitan Police could not put police on every corner.

Drugs were inherent in society, he said, and any police commander who committed to eliminating drugs would be talking nonsense:

“Someone drives that market and policing alone will not eliminate it.”

Image: Public meeting at Gunnersbury Triangle Club

Sean Wilson praises use of Stop and Search powers

Chief Superintendent Wilson praised the use of ‘Stop and Search’ powers. In recent years the police have relied more on the power to stop people they judge to be suspicious and search them.

The tactic is controversial, as it opens the way for racist police to misuse their power. It was used less for a period after the Scarman Report into the Brixton riots in the 1980s found unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of Stop and Search powers by the police against Black people.

The Borough Commander told residents at the meeting in Gunnersbury the use of Stop and Search was an important tool in tackling drug dealers.

Policing by consent

Cllr Ron Mushiso, a Black councillor who supports the use of Stop and Search, asked what the public, Police and Crime Commissioner and the Mayor of London could do to give police more authority to “do their jobs more effectively.”

“The best thing you can do is overt verbal support, policing is by consent but it’s also by confidence.” Superintendent Wilson said.

“The David Carrick, Wayne Couzens absolute horror, really undermined confidence in policing and really at one point I thought the consent was in jeopardy.”

Police officer David Carrick was found to be a serial rapist and Wayne Couzens a murderer.

“What happened was is you’ve got huge media focus, and it’s happened before. Let’s be honest, cops make mistakes every day, we all do. Can I ask has anyone made a mistake in the last week?

“Most hands will go up. We all do. But what doesn’t get published is the 98-99% of excellent work and the life-saving that does on by police work, by fire brigade, by ambulance workers every day. It simply is not front page of the Metro every morning.”

He went on to say more legislation was not necessary and asked for a “balanced opinion of what goes on in policing”, adding that most police work is now mental health related and much of it is based online – specifically around child sexual exploitation and indecent imagery.

Superintendent Wilson urged people not to make quick judgements on the competence of the Met and to refrain from critique before knowing the whole picture, as this contributes to the Met’s poor image.

He talked about a recent video of a police officer which went viral due to the comments he made about a person being “openly Jewish” at a pro-Palestinian march in central London.

“That officer is not anti-Semitic. That officer had run out of ways to try and get some common sense into this person who had come out with a full media team. And they’re good, those media teams are good at influencing public opinion.”

Image above: Inspector Michael Binns, responsible for Neighbourhood policing, addresses the meeting; photograph A. Nawrocki

Zero interest in joining the police force

Also at the meeting was Inspector Michael Binns, reposnsible for neighbourhood policing across the borough, who has addressed public meetings on policing in Chiswick before. He said officers have been “spread very thin across the borough and were sticking plasters on issues”.

The team in Chiswick were for a long time under strength and they are often called on to fill the rotas else where in west London so the police can meet their responsibility to answer 999 calls.

Now, since vacancies across the rest of LB Hounslow have been filled, he said neighbourhood police would be able to spend more time dealing with crime in Chiswick.

They have worked hard to bring the local team up to strength, but Inspector Binns added that the Metropolitan Police as a whole were understaffed in the “thousands” and that he would need more than double the number he has to operate much more efficiently.

The reason is not budgetary, he said. The issue is with recruitment because there is simply not enough interest from the public in joining the force. Last month, he said, no-one had applied locally, something which he said has not happened since 1882.

Image: Panel and audience

“Getting rid of  Chiswick Police station was ludicrous”

Inspector Binns acknowledged what many in Chiswick have said, when he told the meeting “getting rid of Chiswick Police station was ludicrous”.

The Chiswick Neighbourhood Police team does not have a base in Chiswick. They have to travel from their base in Acton to start their day’s work and they have nowhere secure in Chiswick to keep their weapons and gear, although they have made arangements with retailers such as M&S and Waitrose so officers can have spaces to work and leave personal effects when they can go out on patrol.

He explained that when Chiswick police do make an arrest, they are likely to be gone for the rest of the day, as they have to find a custody suite free to process the arrest and may have to travel to Heathrow or Wandsworth to process the arrest.

He acknowledged that victims of crime in Chiswick who have called 999 have been “let down” by travelling times of police making their way from Feltham.

One resident asked whether living near a police station has any impact on response times, as she lives closest to Acton Police Station.

“You would think so wouldn’t you?” said Inspector Binns. But because Acton Police Station is part of Ealing’s police force, it did not cover the area where she lived.

“Be more neighbourly”

As the meeting turned to discussion of burglaries, Inspector Binns encouraged residents to be “more neighbourly” and knowledgeable about the people they lived next door to. This he said would go a long way in preventing crime, as more involved neighbour would notice whether the people living next door are being burgled. He encouraged residents to report anything suspicious they see.

One resident was concerned that reporting crimes locally would make her insurance premiums increase, as insurance companies will come to view Chiswick “in a certain way”.

Inspector Binns sought to assure the resident this would not be the case, as insurance companies have their own mechanisms for tracking crime hotspots.

Image: Waterworks festival at Gunnersbury park was one event residents complained about, as they saw a spike in drug-dealing and laughing gas canisters in the streets

Residents grill officers on policing Gunnersbury Park festivals

Pushing back on the idea that the police were understaffed, one resident asked how the Met can say they’re understaffed when during festivals at Gunnersbury park where were “tons of police”, yet in Chiswick it is hard to find a single police officer near the A406 during an event, where she said dealers can be seen selling Nos (nitrous oxide or laughing gas) canisters.

“[This is] despte there being sales on the ridgeway, with a lot of Nos canisters littered in the road, including in front of a school,” the woman said.

She asked whether there were any plans for extra police coverage outside of Gunnersbury Park during festivals, rather than businesses operating festivals benefitting from extra policing of their events.

Inspector Binns said officers are brought in from local neighbourhood teams from all over London, including sometimes Chiswick, during events such as those at Gunnersbury Park. He said he did not agree with that process and is “constantly battling” his superiors to leave his officers to do what they need to do locally.

Asked whether some police could be spared at least to patrol around schools during festivals, Inspector Binns said:

“If we can, we will do, certainly outside the schools” but said he could not make any promises.

Another resident asked whether data on crime are being gathered in the run up, during, and after these festivals and whether this data can be used as evidence to cut new licences for future events. She said currently for 2024 there were over 50 planned events in Gunnersbury Park, which she described as “absolutely insane”.

The Chiswick Calendar has only been able to find ten days of music festivals in the scheduled programme for the park, so it is unclear how she arrived at the figure of 50.

Answering her point about data being gathered on specific crimes inside the festivals and at the periphery in the local neighbourhood, Inspector Binns said: “Yes, it happens all the time.”

Items confiscated from attendees are noted. Asked whether this information, if indicative of ongoing criminal patterns, could be sent to Hounslow’s licensing committee for consideration, Inspector Binns said:

“I could but I doubt they would listen… but it’s not getting ignored and does get discussed.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar