Photograph: Superintendent Gary Taylor addressing the meeting in St Michael & All Angels Church
Chiswick has a crime problem, the police recognize it and are acting on it, was the message of Superintendent Gary Taylor at a packed meeting at St Michael & All Angels church on Thursday night.
As one person after another stood up to speak about how their teenage child had been mugged, there had been more than one stabbing recently and a shooting incident, it became apparent that there are a lot of assaults, especially on teenage boys, which go largely unreported by local media because the police don’t talk about them. What we hear about crime in Chiswick is largely anecdotal but personal experience of assaults on teenagers was common among the audience of 250 or so people who came to the meeting organized by Chiswick’s Conservative councillors.
There has been a spate of muggings in the area around Turnham Green tube station, on Chiswick Back Common and in Bath Rd and the stabbing of a young man in Chiswick Park tube station on Thursday 13 December by a gang who apparently followed him off the tube train, has shocked the community.
Superintendent Taylor told the meeting they have noticed a pattern of assailants coming in to Chiswick by tube and that they are working with British Transport Police to try and track the gangs responsible.
“We know there is a problem here”
The officer, who is Deputy Commander of West Area, the tri-borough command of Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow, an area covering more than 100 square miles with one million residents, said he knew that “things aren’t going so well” and that he understood the frustration and concern of residents.
“We know there is a problem here” he said. He promised to come up with a plan and to report back in three months’ time about how effectively they were dealing with it. In formulating a plan, he said police looked at “where is the crime happening and why and what can be done”.
He told the meeting that 80% crime is opportunist, that on his way to the meeting he’d driven around the area and noticed how dark it was. Improving lighting and using moveable CCTV cameras were both ways of “designing out” crime, making an area less attractive to would-be attackers who would go elsewhere. Displacement is also a factor in the pattern of how crime is committed.
What the police can do is to target known habitual knife carriers and take them out of the equation by stepping up stop and search. He announced that three people had been arrested the day before the meeting who police believe are responsible for knife point robberies, as a result of work by undercover officers over the past week.
“Some people have the attitude that we can’t do anything about crime like this” he said, but this is not true. “We need a plan” he said, “a contract; what we will do, what the council will do and what residents will do”.
Photographs: Left – Local police officers based in Chiswick. Right – Torin Douglas, Sergeant Anil Sharma, Inspector Dee O’Brien and leader of the Conservative group of councillors Sam Hearn
Better street lighting
Better street lighting is the responsibility of councils. The Conservative group of councillors have already talked to officers at Hounslow council. Street lights are being dimmed to save money. Sam Hearn, leader of the Conservative group, told the meeting that they had asked the council to look again at the policy and to install new lighting and CCTV cameras. Ranjit Gill, councillor for Turnham Green ward, said the lights had already been switched back to full strength in two roads – Windmill Rd and Chiswick Common Rd.
Sam was jeered when he began to criticize the council for mismanaging finances, as was Ruth Cadbury MP when she addressed the meeting briefly and said talked about the effect of government policies on local councils. “Knife crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum” she said, “we can’t get way from the resources issue”.
It was clear from the meeting that people were in no mood for party political blame and counter blame. Former BBC correspondent Torin Douglas, who chaired the meeting, said at the outset that the event was to be “a practical and un-party-political meeting” because “people feel extremely strongly and are very concerned”.
Shooting in Clovelly Rd
The meeting heard from one woman about how there had been a shooting incident in Clovelly Rd. The target was in a neighbouring house. She had kept her sons in but she was angry that police had not warned people there was a gun man free in the neighbourhood. Police were in attendance after the incident at 3.00am in which three shots were fired, but didn’t catch him and the gunman came back the following night. “The police never told any of our neighbours. I kept my sons in but it could have been your sons caught in the crossfire”. “How can we trust you” she asked Superintendent Taylor “when you don’t tell us what’s going on?” He answered “telling the media can have a negative effect. We put our efforts into trying to arrest people, and we have. Two people have been arrested and there is a closure order on that address”.
Another woman who preferred to be anonymous said her 12 year old son had been mugged outside Arts Ed school, they’d reported it straight away and yet nearly two weeks later no police officer had come to talk to her son about it. “It was at 6pm on a Thursday. That area is very well lit. These were 14 or 15 year old boys wearing blazers. We could identify the school.” Not taking action was just giving these young people the idea that they could just get away with crime, she said.
Torin Douglas said delays in contact from the police was one of the biggest complaints they’d received. Gary Taylor apologized and said that was unacceptable. “Communication might not be right. Maybe we could improve that”. More than 60 questions had been submitted prior to the meeting and he said he would answer them all.
Reduction in police recources
On the resources available to the police he said the police service had had huge cuts made to their budget. “It’s quite a big ask to keep everyone happy with reduced resources” and “the money saving journey is not yet finished.”
A teenager in the audience spoke of how he’d been chased by “three guys with knives. I was quick enough to run away but I worry that my two younger brothers would not have been”. Responding to Gary Taylor’s statement that the police aimed to respond within 15 minutes, he said “15 minutes is too long to wait. You need to get away from danger immediately. What we need is a safe place.”
Asked whether the closure of Chiswick Police Station had taken away that opportunity of a safe place to go to, the superintendent said under the new way of working they were actually better able to respond as they were more flexible.
The manager of the Rocks Lane sports complex Barry Murray said they have over 6,000 people visit them each week. Young people turned to the football coaches because they’d been threatened or mugged on a daily basis. “They run into our centre for protection”.
Sarah Spateri said when her 12 year old son was mugged last year police took just 11 minutes to arrive and followed text book procedure, driving him around to see if he could spot the mugger, but when a similar thing happened to her friend’s son recently police took over an hour to respond.
James Thellusson told how his son had been followed home from a burger restaurant on the High Rd. He’d been assaulted within 20 yards of his house. He’d been told by the police that if there had been more CCTV available they’d have been able to track them through Chiswick and that the more crime that was reported the more resources were made available.
Superintendent Gary Taylor has promised to return to Chiswick in three months to report back on progress.