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'We can let children out to play again': Residents' joy as cops nab 160 people on council estate after shooting spree
8 September 2023, 07:20 | Updated: 8 September 2023, 07:37
Police in north-west London have made 160 arrests in just two months on a large housing estate, riddled by drug use, gun crime and anti-social behaviour.
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Among them are dozens of people from Grahame Park, in Colindale, Barnet, who are now being held on suspicion of offences like murder, grievous bodily harm and dealing Class A drugs, as well as the possession of firearms and other dangerous weapons.
Using a new tactic called ‘Clear, Hold, Build’, Metropolitan Police officers have worked with Barnet Council and residents of the housing estate to identify issues, make arrests and clear it of ‘serial trouble makers’.
Chief Inspector Rob Gibbs invited LBC on a walk around the area, where he explained that it’s been plagued by serious crime for the past few years, but it was a spate of shootings that spurred them into taking drastic action.
"It was December through to April when we had 15 shootings here, firearms being discharged. Somebody was paralysed as a result of that but that’s what really intensified what we wanted to achieve here.
"We’re trying to focus on where our most problems are, where we’re seeing most crime and that leads us towards Grahame Park.
"We’re trying to do precision policing and make it intelligence-led, coming together with our specialist colleagues and the local authority to target those who are causing the most problems for the community."
Much of the social housing on Grahame Park was built in the 1970s and its narrow snaking alleyways have provided drug dealers and gangs with a hidden view from the road to carry out illicit activities - and an easy escape route from officers trying to catch them.
Through an increased use of foot patrols and plain-clothes officers on bikes, and by issuing closure orders on certain blocks of flats, police say they’ve managed to crack down on a large amount of antisocial behaviour, rough sleepers and drug supply over a very short period of time.
Among the 160 arrests made over the past eight weeks, police say offences included:
- 34 ‘higher harm offences’ such as murder, rape or GBH.
- 58 drug supply, 36 of which related to Class A drugs.
- 23 weapons offences, including knives and firearms.
Residents of Grahame Park have also told of the remarkable change they’ve noticed to their community.
One mum said: "More kids are out playing now. They’re not scared to be out and parents are more happy to let them. I feel more safe now because there’s not big crowds around intimidating people.”
Another couple added: "It’s been a lot better since the drug addicts were moved on. It’s so much quieter - the only issue now is the fly-tipping but going from drug-dealers to fly-tipping is a massive step."
The council is now working alongside officers to maintain stability in Grahame Park - the ‘Hold’ element of the approach - as they work to regenerate the area and build more suitable homes.
Sara Conway, from Barnet Council, told LBC: "I have a close connection to Grahame Park - my nana lived here and I spent a lot of time with her when I was growing up so I’ve watched it through different phases.
It started to get worse and worse and it hasn’t felt like a comfortable place for a while. It was like nobody was listening for a very long time and I hope that’s starting to change.
"I’m quite emotional being back here now and seeing how much it’s improved. You can really feel the difference."
As part of his plans to reform the Metropolitan Police, Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has reiterated his commitment to returning to a focus on community policing in London.
One of his frontline response officers based at Colindale Police Station noted the real difference their focused approach has had, telling LBC it’s brought them closer to the community they serve.
Sergeant Tom Furlong said: "It’s really heart warming seeing what we’re doing have a real impact on the people that live here.
"It used to be the case that you’d step foot on this estate and within 10 minutes you’d have an arrest because so much was going on but it’s not like that now. And people are thankful for what we’re doing.
However, there is a risk that efforts to reinstate effective community policing in London could be marred by a reduction in frontline officers at the Met, and a shortage of crucial police staff roles.
Sergeant Furlong and his colleague said the effectiveness for them in Barnet of being able to pass their cases onto police staff and detectives to investigate helped them achieve such a high arrest rate on Grahame Park.
But Sir Mark warned at the London Assembly on Wednesday that he’s concerned at the fact his force is losing more officers than it’s recruiting, with officers being taken away from the frontline to do support and resource functions.