|Last minute briefing at Shepherd's Bush Station|
We arrived on the street in a convoy of unmarked cars and a very large unmarked van with 18 officers, clad in full riot gear, sweltering inside ready to charge. It was near midday at this point and 29 degrees outside. Inside that van it was about 45. But surprise was the aim, and even though the police achieved this we still arrived to hear a toilet being flushed repeatedly in one of the homes. Either the Housing Association tenant had had a particularly virulent tandoori the night before or there was something afoot.
At the briefing before the raid we were given a bit of history on these individuals, several of whom had street names that were clearly meant to make them sound even more scary. Among the jewels that were shared was the knowledge that there were at least two mastiff dogs and probably more, and that “they will kick off when we arrest them, so use proportionate force to protect yourselves and the public.”
But then, given that they were armed with samurai swords such as those below, it seemed that the briefing was bang on the money. This is the sort of thing that our officers face on our behalves armed with nothing but a stab vest. And a hat.
|A sword. And a hat.|
As I left the scene the hard work was only really beginning, as police dog handlers combed the properties for scent and officers conducted finger tip searches for drugs, finding cannabis and wadges of cash. One officer netted £400 pounds in a bedroom while the other, picking through the evidence of regular drug use, found another £250. Oh, and we also found the crack pipe pictured below.
Around us the familiar dance of the net curtains was taking place in windows overlooking these three houses which had done so much to ruin it for everyone else. I saw a pink and white kids bike stashed on a flat balcony overhead and wondered if the parents here felt comfortable letting their kids ride them on their own street, these dealers having been known to deal openly in gangs on the road.
As I walked up the road away from the scene one man looked nervously around to check nobody could see and flashed a thumbs up to me, nodding his head once. This was on a central London street in Shepherd's Bush, where people had been so frightened even the act of giving the thumbs up was considered a risk.
In the days that follow the street will be leafleted by police explaining the action they took and giving their contact details. It’s important people realise it is possible to pass on information anonymously, including even giving statements. Anyone wanting to do that can call them direct on 0208 721 2056 – and do so in the knowledge it will be acted upon. I’ve seen the people at the other end of the telephone.
|Police reclaiming a street in W12|
Step forward the work of the award winning Shepherd’s Bush Safer Neighbourhood Team, SNT. These are people I have been privileged to spend time with one Saturday night in the Bush and then again on a raid against a meth-amphetamine drug factory in White City – which I was told netted the man that was arrested a 3 and a half year prison sentence. These people are made up of some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met, either in public service or elsewhere and they could all be doing other things, probably for much more money. Several of them are former soldiers, but others have a wide a range of backgrounds.
But what unites them in this team, headed by Sergeants Finbar King and Steve Gilbert, is an intimate knowledge of every nook, alley and street corner of our neighbourhood. Many of them have been there since the start of the team five years ago and you saw some of their results in this annual report to you they published on the blog here.
|A wadge of cash|
And they’ve done so in ways that have won widespread recognition, including an award in 2009 from the Association of Chief Police Officers, for the “innovative” means that they developed in Shepherd’s Bush for shutting down crack houses. Our SNT is aggressive, but not violently so. They want to be in the faces of criminals but they also recognise that many crimes are driven by other factors. So they teamed up with social services and other local authority departments and made it their business to go and visit people who were vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Just the other week they conducted another raid and found a vulnerable alcoholic who had had his flat taken over by others who were using at as a basis to sell drugs. Under the terms of the Anti Social Behaviour Act they shut the flat for three months and evicted the people inside. But the vulnerable man has been re-housed and another street in the Bush is made a lot safer for us all.
|Drugs dog: it goes everywhere|
Oh, and the man in charge of closing police stations? That would be our old friend Stephen Greenhalgh.
This council, and Cllr Greg Smith in particular, has a proud record of dedicating funds and providing strong public support to local police teams, and I plan on asking them about their own views about these changes. If police stations are indeed set to be closed you can be sure that Shepherd’s Bush station will be first in line for the chopping block – it has already decommissioned its holding cells and shuts altogether at nights.
Your Safer Neighbourhood Team, with its five years of experience and local knowledge, along with the sort of dedication you rarely come across would be gone.
All of which might look OK on Mr Greenhalgh’s excel spreadsheet as he bashes numbers into a calculator – but it might mean that that little girls' pink & white bike stays firmly on the balcony, as we hand control of our streets back to the families from hell.
Friday UPDATE - Of the two arrests made yesterday one man arrested on suspicion of handing drugs and being in charge of a dangerous dog has been bailed until August to allow the dog to be examined by a Metropolitan Police expert. The other man was charged with possession of cannabis and kept in custody overnight, to appear at the magistrates court today.