Croydon BID works in close partnership with the Met Police in order to invest in increasing safety in the town centre and reducing crime.
Central government cuts in the police force have seen the police force reduce in recent years. A Home Office report in 2017 showed that police officer numbers had decreased to 123,142 officers; the lowest number of police officers since comparable records began in 1996. In London, the police force has seen a loss of £850 million since 2011.
Locally, Croydon BID has been responding to the challenges facing safety and security both in reality but in fear of crime with extra police officers in the town centre and working with the local police on specific initiatives.
Over the past few years, the Metropolitan Police Service has seen incredible change. In November 2018, the BCU (Borough Command Unit) was formed to improve delivery of service across the four key areas of neighbourhoods, response, investigation and safeguarding. As a result, response teams are larger and have the ability to work across borough boundaries. Also, any victims of crime experience fewer 'hand offs', reducing the number of different officers they have to deal with. The BCU also means that the investigation of domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual offences has been brought closer together improving their coordination.
Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer is in charge of the BCU, meaning he oversees the tri-borough of Croydon, Sutton and Bromley. He has been a police officer for over 25 years and a rewarding career has seen him rise to be this leading role as Chief Superintendent.
We took the opportunity to ask him about the plans for policing in the town centre.
Is Croydon’s regeneration programme making your job to police the borough more difficult?
The busier a borough, the more demands there are. But I think that Croydon really needed a sense of progress. And now we have this sense of progress. And a modern offer makes it much easier to police.
When we became a Borough Command Unit, BCU, we had a difficult choice. We had to put extra people onto our response teams to ensure critical calls (999) were being dealt with effectively. However, saying that, we are recruiting and increasing our numbers for our town centre. So, there will be additional officers this summer.
An important aspect is ensuring the safety of school children in Croydon. The vast majority of young people do exemplify responsible behaviour. However, there is a small minority of criminals who want to victimise them.
So, we are looking to work with Croydon BID and other agencies further. I want to develop a program called School Watch, which takes the idea of Safe Havens. This would enable town centre businesses to offer a welcoming environment to children, so that they know they have somewhere to go when there is a threat. Staff can be trained to tackle this and, along with the radio link, this enables businesses to come together to increase sense of safety amongst the most vulnerable age group. `
Although nationally knife crime has shown a significant rise since 2015, figures year on year for Croydon demonstrate a reduction in knife crime. There is still much to be done, no question, but we are showing signs of dealing with a national issue locally.
The perception of Croydon is difficult to overcome, and we need to have a very visible presence in the town centre. You’ll see more visibility from the town centre team. We’re increasing the size of the town centre team and we’re looking to achieve a higher level of visibility and reassurance, including more foot patrols.
What can threaten that sense of safety is anti-social behaviour, open drug taking and gang affiliated crime, and so the job of the town centre team is to work with all our partners and tackle all of those issues. Part of the point of having a BCU means that, when we need to, we can bring in lots of other resources, for activities like festivals and events. We’ll also be bringing more school, neighbourhood and town centre officers together, into the town centre, at specific times to tackle anti-social behaviour.
What could make things better and increase continuity in the town centre team?
Affordable housing for public sector workers would enable our police force, and nurses, doctors, teachers and so on, to live and work in the Croydon community. If we provide affordable housing for key workers, it would reduce their travel times and incentivise them to stay in the borough.
What do you think when you hear businesses are reporting more anti-social behaviour?
There is a recurrent issue of daytime drunkenness. There have been cuts to services around drugs and alcohol misuse. So, yes, I think that there are more people on the streets who are suffering from drugs and alcohol misuse. And the perceptions of safety might be affected by the increased level of visible homelessness.
Are there plans taking place to tackle this issue?
It is challenging, because the kind of resources we have won’t necessary tackle the underlying issues that they have. Although uniformed police officers are very useful, they can’t put people into rehabilitation programs. One thing we can do is better information sharing between police and security staff, and reporting concerns, such as using the Croydon BID Radio Link.
There’s a real opportunity, in the redevelopment of Croydon, for some places that don’t feel safe in the day, to be improved through better environmental design. I take great comfort from the improvements around East and West Croydon station, and Box Park. These are good examples of improved areas that encourage people to come into the centre of Croydon.
There are exciting developments that will really help position Croydon as a very safe and interesting place to visit, whether for work, for retail or for entertainment. I see Croydon moving towards a very modern, exciting offer. Our role is to promote the safety aspect. We can only do that through working with property owners, licensees and retailers.
Do you think the Night-time economy is struggling in Croydon because of the perception of safety?
Ten to twelve years’ ago, Friday and Saturday nights used to be called ‘fight night’ but I genuinely think that the night-time economy is far safer than it’s ever been in all my policing career.
It is true that the night-time economy is smaller. We don’t have the huge venues that we used to have and this in some respects this supports the safety agenda.
However, there have also been huge improvements in licensing, such as SIA (Security Industrial Authority) door staff.
But also, people seem to drink less than they used to. There isn’t the same drinking culture. The police’s role in this, in that change of culture, is to support the move away from that drinking culture, to a more diverse and mature night-time economy.
I genuinely believe that anyone going out in Croydon at 10pm this Friday night, compared to 10 year ago, will feel much safer. There’s far less obvious drunkenness and far less anti-social behaviour.
It’s interesting that, in the last 10 years, we’ve seen a cultural change of increased fear, perhaps from more sharing information on social media, and of course the impact of fear from terrorism.
Yes, we see the actuality, but you’re right, it’s about the perception. Violent crime is far more visible than it used to be.
Walking between West Croydon and East Croydon is a very different experience. The environment’s better, West Croydon is better lit; it feels like much a safer place.
The statistics show that, year on year, violent crime in Croydon has decreased by 4% (April, 2019). There’s also been a 38.3% decrease in the possession of weapons (YOY April 2019).
Initiatives, like the Back to School Safety Campaign have a positive impact. In September 2018, Croydon BID, Croydon Council and the Metropolitan Police co-ordinated a multi-agency approach; this four day campaign was designed to reduce the fear of crime by providing a high-visibility presence in the town centre to support businesses while increasing the situational awareness of young people offering general crime prevention advice and engaging them on other key issues.
With the benefits of the Borough Command Unit, continued close collaboration between the Met police and Croydon BID, as well as the increased number of police officers in the town centre, we are likely to see more positive impacts in Croydon in the future.