Throwing caution to the winds LW visited the Town Hall last night for a meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee (see ‘Explainer’ below). The main purpose for this rare trip beyond the borders of Wapping was to see what the new Tower Hamlets Met Police Borough Commander Chief Superintendent Sue Williams had to say about crime in Tower Hamlets and in particular ASB during the O&S ‘Scrutiny Spotlight’ session.
Wapping has been suffering from boy racers and people littering our streets with used laughing gas (nitrous oxide) canisters recently and our councillors had raised this with both the Mayor and the police.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Williams is the current Tower Hamlets Borough Commander (aka Top Cop) and has been in post for only four months and so in her own words is “still trying to get to grips with Tower Hamlets.”
The borough has suffered from a high turnover of borough commanders in recent years and this has undoubtedly contributed to recent problems.
Explainer – Oversight & Scrutiny Committee
Oversight & Scrutiny Committee? What’s that when it’s at home? According to Wikipedia Oversight & Scrutiny is a committee made up of a representative mixture of councillors who are not members of the council cabinet whose job is to keep an eye on decisions made by the cabinet and investigate if necessary any issues which affect the local area or inhabitants.
In other words it’s a check on the use of power. In Tower Hamlets as in many local authorities the O&S Committee also consists of independent members of the community who are not councillors.
One very important aspect of O&S is the ability to ask decision makers to consider their decision or refer the decision to a meeting of the full council if the O&S people think the decision is in contravention of the council’s budget or policy. It is often the more controversial decisions which are ‘called-in’.
Just the right person
LW is pleased to report that on the basis of last night’s presentation to O&S Sue Williams seems to be extremely capable and just the person we all need to get to grips with policing. She gave an cracking presentation and answered all questions very well with no corporate-speak or police jargon.
Here are the highlights of what Commander Williams said for those with short attention spans and more detail below for those really want to know what is going on with the police.
- Her vision is for Tower Hamlets to be the best performing borough in the Met based on the the Mayor [for London’s] Office for Policing and Crime or MOPAC. (also see ‘Explainer’ below)
- Was asked to come to the borough to ‘turn its fortunes around’ and to achieve this her two main priorities are:
- Reducing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) including drugs and street crime
- Reducing violence with injury including domestic and knife crime
These two main priorities have to be balanced with the wider London requirements of MOPAC which are:
- Neighbourhood policing
- Keeping children and young people safe
- Tackling violence against women and young girls including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
- Tackling hate crime extremism and terrorism
- Improving the community justice system
If you would like to see the full presentation you can find it here on the Tower Hamlets Council website (PDF).
Four key slides relating to ASB can be seen here ‘Tower Hamlets MPS policing update statistics’.
The full agenda of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee held on Thursday, 1st September, 2016 6.00 p.m. can be found here. Please note this includes a full audio recording of the meeting. The sound isn’t brilliant but at least it is there.
Explainer – MOPAC
MOPAC Mayor [for London’s] Office for Policing and Crime sets the direction and budget for the Metropolitan Police Service on behalf of the London Mayor and is responsible for delivering the Policing and Crime Plan. Sue Linden is the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and as such is responsible for MOPAC. She has extensive experience in this area working with the Home Office, as a councillor at Hackney and with the voluntary sector.
Dedicated Ward Officers
Each ward will be getting two dedicated Ward Officers (who will not be dragged off every five minutes to deal with stuff in other parts of the borough as happens now) as well as having other officers who have responsibility for wards but who are not dedicated plus a Police Community Safety Officer (PCSO).
At the moment Wapping has only one police officer and one PCSO.
All sounds good – let’s see what happens. What else did she say? Oh yes…
- The current terrorism threat level remains ‘Severe’.
- Crowded areas with high footfall (lots of people) such as Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, St. Katharine’s Dock, the East London Mosque and the Royal London hospital are key risks areas to only name a few but they get extra attention from the police (see below).
- The Commander explained that a working population equivalent to the size of Bristol – around 430,000 – comes into Canary Wharf every day.
- Local Counter Terrorism policing is linked with both the London and National Counter Terrorism picture
- A police Counter Terrorism vehicle makes visits to key premises and three times a day (on every shift)
- The deployment of high-profile armed police known as Operation Hercules is handy for those of us by the river as Limehouse police station is the Op. Hercules base for east London which means we get extra armed officers for the borough.
- Talking about the recent Russell Square incident where one woman was killed and five people injured by a person with a knife Sue Williams explained that all these types of incident will be treated as terrorism then the police will work their way through the facts. In practice this meant that when the police were alerted to what had happened at Russell Square all Tower Hamlets officers had to be accounted for then all officers were placed on 12 hour shifts so giving the Met more officers at their disposal.
Anti-Social Behaviour in Tower Hamlets
Now the really interesting bit! It seems our borough is the worst in east London for ASB by some margin, way ahead of other east London boroughs such as Newham, Hackney, Haringey, and Waltham Forest. No surprises there. Look at the chart below. Not good is it?
It also seems that Tower Hamlets has the highest number of ASB calls in London apart from Westminster, even our neighbour Newham has a much lower number
The vast majority of our ASB calls are reports of people causing a nuisance with a lower number for personal abuse and some for environmental problems.
Commander Williams pointed out that there is no dedicated hot line for ASB in the borough as it has previously been agreed that all ASB calls would go through 101.
As we know and Sue Williams is very well aware this does cause problems as those who make the ASB calls might have to wait for 48 hours for any response.
Critical of current 101 ASB call policy
“I am quite critical of the way all the calls come into 101,” said the Commander, adding that she had asked for a ‘peer review’ of this approach where operational counterparts and specialists from neighbouring forces take a fresh look at the way things work.
Borough Commander Sue Williams
Sue has a huge amount of policing experience both in uniform and with the CID from which all borough residents will hopefully benefit.
According to her official MPS bio she has over 30 years experience in Waltham Forest, Islington, Camden, Westminster and Brent as well as central postings to the Central Drugs Squad, Regional Crime Squad and Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate.
She had responsibility as the MPS lead for Domestic Violence issues and represented the MPS on several multi agency international visits to share good practice.
Sue has been involved in a number of projects for the MPS that include: Women and Policing, the IAG review, developing a Community Engagement Infrastructure and developing the Equality Impact Assessment process for the MPS.
She was also instrumental in drafting ‘A Police Service for All the People’ after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and was the MPS lead on developing a multi agency strategy ‘Abuse of Vulnerable Adults’.
Sue is an experienced hostage negotiator and remains on call to deal with those in crisis situations. She is married, with a young daughter, and lives in Hertfordshire. She enjoys horse riding, skiing, cycling, tennis and art.
Quite where she gets the time to do that is anyone’s guess.
“Level of drugs calls unbelievable”
Commander Williams says that the level of drugs calls is unbelievable in this borough and so any ASB policy has to include drugs.
“If we can stop the drugs market we can reduce other types of crime. Take the drugs out then everything else falls as well.” Sue Williams.
The annoying and frankly pretty surprising thing is that Sue explained that while fighting drugs crime is a priority for her officers in Tower Hamlets it is not a stated priority for either the Metropolitan Police Service as a whole or the Mayor of London’s office.
Which is probably one of the most daft things LW has heard.
This either shows that someone somewhere doesn’t see promoting a drugs policy as being good for their own career advancement or both the Met and Mayor of London are completely out of touch with want ordinary people want sorted. Or all of the above.
Sue Williams admitted she may have to fight a few internal battles within the Met but luckily for us residents she is off and running with her approach to ASB. Here actions will be:
- A new police ASB hub
- Staffing a daily ASB disorder unit with responsibility for proactively targetting ASB hotspots in support of our local Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT)
- A review of police ASB call handling as above
- Continuing bi-weekly targeted ASB operations [LW thinks this is arse kicking and name taking in particular areas]
- Bi-monthly checks on monthly vulnerable / repeat callers and perpetrators
- New ASB warning notice to enable enhanced collection of and sharing of data [LW has no idea what this means but sounds good.]
So – if you are an ASB git in Tower Hamlets your life is just about to become very miserable indeed.
Or if you are a fan of The Simpsons character Nelson = “HA ha!”
But enough editorial victimisation of the blatantly guilty.
Sue William’s previous experience has shown her that working closely with the voluntary sector can be extremely valuable but in Tower Hamlets her initial analysis has shown that “there is a big gap around the voluntary sector.”
She said that in contradiction to her initial ‘clear briefing’ that community partnerships were not working she said that she had found the opposite, in fact:
“Talking [with the voluntary sector] has been a pleasure, everyone is up for working together, not one group has refused to work with us. I was a very strong believer in partnerships in other boroughs and that is one reason i am here,” she said.
The biggest surprise of the Commander’s briefing came towards the end when she was taking questions.
Acknowledging the current problem with the 101 system she said:
“It is right to dial 999 when you see people dealing drugs.”
Yep. Which is the opposite of what we have been told for years. 999 for an immediate threat to life or property and 101 for everything else. Not any more.
“If you have got someone dealing drugs ring 999.”
No apologies for repeating the Commander’s words because as she explained “when drug deals are going is when we get our gun crime and knife crime.”
All clear? If you see drugs deals happening or people taking illegal drugs in the street or outside your front door dial 999.
Cheapest drugs in London
Cllr. Clare Harrison (Labour, St Peter’s) said that Tower Hamlets “has a reputation for the cheapest drugs in London” which is very interesting indeed. LW wonders if this is as a result of the very high levels of ASB or a cause of it?
Our very own Cllr. Julia Dockerill (Conservative, St Katharine’s & Wapping) raised the current problems of the laughing gas canisters littering our streets and the ‘boy racers’ doing their best to kill
Music to my ears
“What you have said Commander is music to my ears,” said Cllr. Dockerill. “ASB is such a high priority for residents and often I feel completely impotent when advising them. In Wapping we have big problems with boy racers, gas canisters [nitrous oxide] dumped in the streets, all this gives the impression that no-one is looking after Wapping.”
Sue Williams conceded that because using nitrous oxide use is not an offence the only real option for enforcement was fining users for littering the streets.
With regard to the ‘boy racers’ the main discussion was around the recent ‘tunnel run’ where around 150 vehicles parade – at speed – through the various road tunnels in the borough.
Sue Williams readily admitted that the response to this event last weekend was not good enough and apologised. Part of the problem seemed to be co-ordination with British Transport Police.
The farcical non-investigation by the Metropolitan Police of electoral crime allegations was touched on only briefly as, thankfully for her, all this took place before Commander Williams took over. (Unlike other borough commanders who seemed to dodge any responsibility when allegations happened on their watch.)
The overwhelmingly positive tone of the meeting was summed up by the comments of Victoria Ekubia, one of the independent members of O&S.
“I feel really good right now because I feel as if i have been listened to as a resident,” said Victoria. “But I am also feeling a bit apprehensive because I am wondering how long you will be staying with us?”
This was greeted with laughter by most of the Councillors and council officers in the room for the simple reason that the borough has seen three commanders come and go in a very short space of time, with few if any managing a year in the borough.
“I do not have any plans to move, it’s down to the Met at the end of the day but I can’t deliver without a good run at it,” responded Sue Williams.
Let’s hope the Metropolitan Police do the borough and London a favour and just let our new Borough Commander get on and do her job for as long as it takes. Frequent reorganisations have always been the curse of the Met and Londoners suffer as a result.
We attended the O&S expecting to be disappointed by the attitude of those in charge of Tower Hamlets policing as we were last time.
Instead we were pleasantly surprised to encounter a very clued up and professional officer with the experience and perception to sort out the borough’s crime problems, particularly ASB. A clear believer in evidence-based policing Sue Williams has analysed the crime data and knows what to target and how to do it with best value for all.
We think Sue Williams would be the first to acknowledge that our police officers can only do their work with the co-operation of the community. So we all need to put any past negative experiences to one side and give the police our full support.
Crime is always a symptom of the real problems and in Tower Hamlets more than most places in the country these problems are widespread poverty and deprivation. While the council can get on and tackle those social issues the Met in Tower Hamlets now seems intent on making the borough a safer place for all.