Police ‘Safer Neighbourhood’ team in Hounslow severely understaffed

Image above: Inspector Michael Binns

Metropolitan Police recruitment crisis means 999 response teams have had to take officers from the ‘Safer Neighbourhood’ team

The Metropolitan Police are facing a recruitment crisis. “There is plenty of money available” acting Inspector Michael Binns told The Chiswick Calendar, “Sadiq Khan has made the budget  available but we have been trying for 18 months to recruit without success. The recruitment promised has not come through.”

The Inspector, who is in charge of the Safer Neighbourhood Team across the whole of Hounslow, told us that because of this they are 14 officers short of the minimum number they should have in the team because the 999 response team has had to poach staff to fill their roster.

“We are not getting the numbers we want” he said, “and some that have applied haven’t been good enough.”

We have been reporting in the past few weeks about the dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick shops this summer. Sergeant Jim Cope, who is responsible for community policing in Chiswick, noticed a spike earlier in the summer.

“I have noticed an increased pattern of activity and there have been some arrests.”

The Chiswick Calendar’s reporter Matt Smith spoke to more than 70 shop owners and staff in August, who told him they were being targeted by thieves regularly and they were not getting the support they needed from the police.

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

Sergeant Jim Cope and PCSO Cheryl Spilsbury at the launch of Abundance London’s butterflies and flowers art work on the abandoned police station two years ago

Chiswick has about half the number of community police it should have

Sergeant Cope told us currently he has three full time Police Constables, two part time Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and one full time PCSO, which is about half the strength of the team he should have. They are based in Acton, since Chiswick lost its police station.

When we spoke on Friday (1 September) Inspector Binns said he had just been to a meeting where he had asked for more officers and was hopeful he would be given more soon, some of whom would be deployed in Chiswick. He confirmed to The Chiswick Calendar today that he had been successful and had seven new officers starting with him in the Safer Neighbourhoods Team today (across the whole of the borough of Hounslow), one of whom would be allocated to Chiswick.

We are supposed to have two PCs and a PCSO in each of the three Chiswick wards of Riverside, Homefields and Gunnersbury, so even with the welcome new addition we will still be two PCs and two part time PCSOs sort of the budgeted complement.

The inspector told us there are also plain clothes detectives operating in the area, but they are focused on violent crime, robberies and burglaries and are deployed when they have specific intelligence.

Image above: Natalie Everett, manager womenswear shop Jigsaw: “I think worst thing for us is there was a group of thieves, who were clearly working together, who were targeting us loads. So much so that they would walk past the front of the shop, glare in and wave at us. They would come in sometimes and laugh in our faces.”

Inspector in charge of Safer Neighbourhood Teams “unaware of the extent of shoplifting in Chiswick’

The Chiswick Calendar’s report on shoplifting showed both the extent of the problem in Chiswick and the brazenness of thieves. Trader after trader told us that they are targeted several times a week and shoplifters have become much bolder, openly stealing in front of them, knowing there is nothing the shop staff can do to stop them.

Inspector Binns told us he had not been aware of the enormity of the problem.

Shoplifting of goods worth less than £200 was downgraded to a summary offence in the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.

Because it is classed as petty crime it had not been on his radar, but since our report was picked up by national press (Daily Mail, The Times, LBC, ITV, Talk TV) and the extent of shoplifting in Chiswick has been brought to his attention, he has realised the seriousness of the situation he told us, and he would put more resources to supporting Chiswick’s shopkeepers.

“Some shops had not been reporting it to us because it happened so often, but it is clear that the risk to people’s livelihoods and welfare is significant.”

He is keen that shopkeepers report theft and make clear in their report the impact the theft has on them.

“It’s clear the frustrations they have been going through.”

He also promised he would follow up on why police have not got back to shopkeepers when they have reported thefts and provided the police with clear video and audio footage of thieves stealing from their premises.

It is clear that until they get the new recruits they need the police will not be able to give shopkeepers as much support as they would like. The Metropolitan Police budget was slashed between 2010 and 2020. Police stations, including Chiswick’s were sold off and officer numbers fell.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons told the BBC in 2018 officers must be “focused on serious crime”. He warned then that crimes such as shoplifting and criminal damage may not be investigated in London because it was “not practical” to do so.

The neighbouring borough of Hammersmith & Fulham decided two years ago to create its own law Enforcement Team of uniformed officers paid for by the Council, both to act as a deterrent and to support the police by being their eyes and ears on the ground. The Chiswick Calendar has suggested that maybe it is time Chiswick had something similar.

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

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

There was a meeting with shopkeepers and the police on Friday (1 September). The Chiswick Calendar spoke to Inspector Binns and Sergeant Cope before the meeting.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar