The Met has had a plan in place for the town centre coming out of lockdown, and with the biggest uplift in officers in 10 years and reopening from lockdown expected in the next month, more officers will be in the town centre to welcome businesses and visitors to the town centre.
Chief Supt Stringer said: “I am moving in light of an expected announcement (on increased officer numbers) I have moved a considerable number of officers into the town centre to make sure upon the release from lockdown people see that extra visibility, they get that extra reassurance, we make sure we are looking after the businesses that are coming back from lockdown, they know we’re looking after them and their customers – and Croydon, post-lockdown, feels like a safe place, and a place that’s good to do business.”
Over the last 10 years as police officer numbers have fallen progressively, the town centre team reduced from about 20 officers to four officers and two PCSOs covering Fairfield and Broad Green wards. We are now back to over twenty officers covering this area.
The increased officer presence will mean those coming to the town centre – maybe for the first time in more than a year – will see a safe and orderly place, but also fun.
“There is that balance -we're here to police crime. We're not here to police high spirits. We're not here to police people legally enjoying themselves and having a good time.
“Croydon is quite a young borough. It has lots of young people moving through it. That's a good thing as they are the customers and business owners of the future and it's our job to keep them safe. But sometimes they need a little bit of a helping hand to understand the difference between what is exuberant and high spirits, and what might be construed as threatening or intimidating to other people.”
Chief Supt Stringer said one challenge for officers was maintaining good COVID-secure behaviour.
“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, we’re not out of it by any stretch of the imagination yet,” he said.
“The NHS has done an absolutely outstanding job - not only in vaccinating my own people, for which are tremendously grateful, and they're tremendously grateful – but they've done an amazing job in vaccinating so many people.
“But there's still lots of people out there who've either only had one vaccination or haven't had one at all - so one of the biggest challenges is how do we maintain good COVID-secure behaviour as we allow businesses to reopen - particularly when the hospitality industry properly reopens.
“That will be a massive challenge, but from what we've seen so far, the hospitality industry in terms of the limited reopening they've been able to do all seems to be very sensible. People seem to be complying with instructions and people seem to be, you know, largely being social distancing rules.”
Chief Supt Stringer said he was also concerned by events such as unlicensed music gatherings as there’s no security or accountability, along with the increased public health risk of spreading coronavirus.
Throughout lockdown the Met has been hard at work in the town centre, running a number of operations including Operation Cleveland, which started this year. Centred around West Croydon bus and train stations, a number of arrests were made and lots of knives were seized. And there’s also been work with the BID.
“We obviously have a very long-standing relationship with the bid, and it's been a very strong relationship. Over the years they have very kindly funded a number of operations in the town centre that we probably wouldn't be able to run normally,” Chief Supt Stringer said.
“What the partnership enables us to do is really focus activity that we almost certainly wouldn't have been able to into areas that directly affect businesses, and hopefully maintain the viability of businesses.
“One of the things that really struck me when I went for a walk around with Matt and the team in 2019 was going into some of the shops with female staff and them saying actually some of the activity that probably isn't probably some criminal but can be really intimidating like begging, aggressively asking for things. It’s great to be able to address those issues with a dedicated resource, which make a difference to how comfortable people feel.
“I'm very proud to be talking about community policing, it's definitely our approach. I completely believe in it. When people talk about community policing they don't often talk about the business community. So, the job of the town centre team is very much about responding to the needs of the business community, understanding what they need, and working with them to deliver it to the best of our ability.”
Looking forward, Chief Supt Stringer also gave us his hopes for the future of Croydon town centre.
He said: “I'd like to see a very safe town centre that showcases the best Croydon has to offer - from the restaurants in the south, to the large-scale prestigious retail and hospitality offer in the middle to the much more diverse, locally-owned offer as we get to the north and London Road.
“I think Croydon is a unique place and it's a marvellous place. And I'd like to see the work of the BID showcase that.”