Residents vent their anger at police about rising tide of crime in Chiswick

Image above: Monday’s panel with Chief Superintendent Sean Wilson (centre-right) waiting to address the crowd in Chiswick Town Hall

Met’s plan for London crime “achievable” but “might not please everyone all the time” says Hounslow police chief

In response to the increasing concerns about crime in Chiswick, residents and businesses had the chance to ask questions of the Metropolitan Police Borough Commander for West London Chief Superintendent Sean Wilson and local police officers at a public meeting on crime and policing in Chiswick on Monday evening (16 October).

A significant number of residents recounted their horror stories of crime in the area, ranging in severity from serious assaults and muggings, to defecation from suspected drug-users outside of homes and petty public nuisances.

The public meeting was the fourth of its kind, organised by Chiswick’s Conservative Councillors in Chiswick Town Hall. Local Labour Party politicians who attended the meeting included  Brentford and Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury, Isleworth councillor John Stroud-Turp – who has lived near Turnham Green for over 25 years, and Chiswick’s only Labour councillor Amy Croft, who represents Riverside ward.

The meeting began with a minute’s silence for Israel and Gaza, as Cllr Peter Thompson, leader of the Conservative group and opposition leader on Hounslow Council, acknowledged the conflict affected the streets of London.

Cllr Ranjit Gill introduced the panel, which included Chief Superintendent Sean Wilson, the Borough Commander, Jim Cope, the Sergeant who runs the ‘Safer Neighbourhoods’ team in Chiswick, and acting Inspector Michael Binns, the officer in charge of the Safer Neighbourhoods teams across the whole of Hounslow.

Commander Wilson outlined the Met’s London plan for crime and emphasised that it is an achievable strategy, even though “it might not please everyone all the time”.

The plan includes priorities such as strengthening neighbourhood policing, enhancing public protection and proactively addressing ‘volume crimes’, such as shoplifting. Mr. Wilson acknowledged the issues with organised crime and gangs stealing high-value items from shops and assured the audience that plans were in place to tackle these problems.

Image above: A nitrous-oxide canister is handed over to police by a resident

Residents unimpressed with police response to various crimes, a sense of hopelessness from many

During the meeting, various residents were visibly angry and upset about drug users and drug dealing, which many described as occurring openly on residential streets, near schools and in public parks.

The police officers assured the audience that they were actively addressing the issue by targeting drug dealers and making significant cash seizures, particularly focusing on the consumers of drugs, and said some of the main culprits were ‘white-collar’ users, a response echoing the Home Office’s rhetoric in recent years.

One member of the audience said that it was not the white-collar users who were making them feel unsafe in public (and sometimes in their own homes) it was predominately young people gathered in groups on street corners and brazen drug users injecting themselves or defecating outside people’s homes for all to see.

Two residents described finding human faeces in the immediate vicinity of their homes, with one woman saying a man brazenly urinated on her driveway in full view of her young son. Another man said when police see these incidents happen, they often just move the person on rather than arrest them.

Another resident expressed concern about nitrous oxide canisters found in the streets, and one such canister was handed over to the police, along with fingerprints which the resident had gathered herself from the canister. She added children were being exposed to this substance, also known as laughing gas, which is due to become a class C drug by the end of 2023.

Crime has gone up since Chiswick’s police station was closed, Borough Commander admits

One resident asked whether crime in Chiswick had increased since the police station was closed. Commander Wilson admitted it had, but said that was not necessarily because the police station had closed.

His comment was met with guffaws of laughter from the audience. Earlier in the meeting the panel had described the challenges of getting to Chiswick from Feltham, which is now where response officers covering this area are based.

Many said they believed, from local knowledge, that they knew where drug dealers were operating from and said they had passed this information onto police to no avail.

One resident shared his frustration over a delayed police response to a burglary, having to wait almost two hours despite the robbery being active at the time of the report.

A 16-year-old boy said he had been mugged on Friday (13 October) near his house in Staveley Gardens in broad daylight. The police assured the audience that they were actively working to address such incidents and had identified suspects before from that area.

They encouraged residents to continue reporting incidents and called on anyone with specific incidents to report these directly to them after the meeting.

Almost inevitably for a public meeting in Chiswick, the topic moved to cyclists. One resident claimed there had been a significant increase of young people cycling at speed along pavements which was “an accident waiting to happen” and called for the police to take the crime more seriously.

Cycling campaigner Ruth Mayorcas asked for cycle theft to be taken more seriously, as many cyclists did not have a car and this was their only mode of transport. She added many people don’t even bother reporting to the police because they assume nothing will be done.

Image above: Nicki Chapman addresses the panel

Presenter Nicki Chapman and neighbours discussed hiring private security 

Radio presenter and local resident Nicki Chapman, who was in the audience, thanked the police for taking the time to listen to the concerns of residents. She said her and about 50 of her neighbours had discussed hiring private security, because crime has become such a problem.

Ms Chapman asked if there was any way local people, those that can afford it, could give money to the police so they could install cameras or a CCTV system in neighbourhoods or crime hotspots. The panel responded saying they would enquire with their superiors and get back with an answer.

During the evening the discussion also turned to the potential use of facial recognition technology by police to assist in identifying criminals, a practice civil liberties groups consider controversial.

While Mr Wilson acknowledged there were challenges posed in using facial recognition technology, he emphasised the benefits of video and photographic evidence. He stopped short of recommending to the audience that everyone should have a video activated doorbell with the ability to record, but the Met are achieving an increasing number of convictions from this type of footage.

Image above: Metropolitan Police Borough Commander for West London, Chief Superintendent Sean Wilson, addresses the crowd in Chiswick Town Hall

Lack of staff and “broken” criminal justice system to blame

Acknowledging various points made by the audience, Inspector Michael Binns discussed the challenges they faced in terms of staffing and capability, citing the severe understaffing the Safer Neighbourhoods team have faced in recent months.

READ ALSO: Police ‘Safer Neighbourhood’ team in Hounslow severely understaffed

The panel said staffing was now almost at 100% across Chiswick’s three wards and in a few months the final vacancy would be filled too. This means there would be two Dedicated Ward Officers and one Police Community Support Officer in each of Hounslow’s 22 wards.

While assuring the audience that increased staffing will mean more police on the beat and a greater presence in communities, the panel emphasised the importance of “data-driven deployment” of officers to address volume crimes, harm, and antisocial behaviour effectively.

Many residents expressed their frustration over the lack of police response to various incidents and appeared unconvinced that a full complement of staff would be enough to tackle crime locally.

The police officers emphasised the need for evidence and urged residents to report incidents to assist in the investigation and prosecution of offenders, while highlighting that the process in gathering evidence, arresting and ultimately convicting suspects is a long one.

READ ALSO: What policing in Chiswick is really like – Sergeant Jim Cope and PC Dur-ee Maknoon Tariq

Cllr Stroud-Turp addressed the audience, and claimed nothing would change until as a nation the “broken criminal justice system” is addressed. He said:

“Today the courts were told not to sentence anyone to a sentence less than six months because there’s no space in prison for them are full. We have a probation service which can’t deal with people, so all these people that the police are arresting, two, three weeks later they’re back committing the exact same crime.”

He added that until the criminal justice system is overhauled, and a “suitable alternative” is found to short prison sentences which he said “do not work” then the yearly meeting on crime organised by Chiswick’s councillors with happen “this year, next year and the year after and not one single thing will change.”

“You’ll still have people shooting up in the phone box across the road and the police will arrest them and charge them and if they’re lucky they might get a small fine and a work community order and that will be it…

“I urge you to not blame the police officers, they are doing the best with the laws at their disposal and the poor resources they have been given. We need more police officers and a fundamental review of the sentencing and prison system.”