Five hours at work with Waltham Forest Police

The Echo spent five hours with officers from the Violence Suppression Unit last Friday
By Victoria Munro

PC Manning searching for weapons in Lloyd Park
PC Manning searching for weapons in Lloyd Park

After a string of serious crimes in the borough in recent weeks, Waltham Forest Police are keen to reassure residents they have the situation in hand.

The new borough commander has moved officers who wouldn’t usually patrol onto the streets and, following yet another killing over the weekend, promises this “high visibility re-assurance” will continue this week.

Furthermore, the borough’s Violence Suppression Unit (VSU) – funded by the Mayor of London and shared with Newham – has been focusing the bulk of its attention on the area.

On Friday, 12th August, the Echo tagged along with two sets of officers from the VSU from noon until 5pm to see how they try to prevent further violence on Waltham Forest’s streets.

First Hour

PC Dan Doyle

PC Dan Doyle and his four fellow officers met me at noon outside Uplands Patrol Base – an unassuming building in an industrial park off Blackhorse Lane – on what would prove a sweltering day.

Though violent crime tends to peak after 4pm, the Met Police employee who organised my visit insisted things were “always busy”, while PC Doyle pointed out the death of 18-year-old Ghulam Sadiq shortly after 2pm two weeks ago proves violence “can happen at any time”. 

Earlier in the day, VSU officers keep busy looking for weapons stashed in the borough’s public spaces and speaking to members of the public to find out what they might know.

Officers searching in Lloyd Park

As we drove to our first stop – Lloyd Park in Walthamstow – PC Doyle admitted these weapons sweeps are “better suited” to units with dogs, who can find “virtually anything”, but that high demand across London means they are hard to come by.

An inspection of the flower beds near the Forest Road entrance netted nothing but some discarded rolling papers and, as the rest of the team searched near the skate park, I spoke to PC Gillies. He told me he was an officer of nine years who joined the Met in his early twenties, after a string of jobs in “bars, building sites and banks”, and who, like the rest of his team, actually lives just outside of London.

Asked what attracted him to policing, he said: “The stability – after the recession there were a lot of job losses but this is a stable job – and the variety. It’s very rare that any day is the same.”

A joint seized from a young man on his lunch break

At 12.50pm, PC Battersby carried out the first stop of the day, confiscating a joint from a young black man who was smoking and reading a book about attachment styles while on his lunch break. 

He was given a warning, which he was told would show up on an advanced criminal record check for the next five years and took a slightly awkward 20 minutes to issue. 

In the meantime, PC Doyle showed me the other find from their search of the park: a screwdriver buried point-down in the ground, which he said was likely intended for use as a weapon. 

Second Hour

At 1.08pm we got back in the thankfully air-conditioned van to travel to our next stop: Coronation Gardens in Leyton

The radio station picked by driver PC Leddie was Heart 00s, which lent itself to occasionally surreal moments of contrast, such as when a call about a mental breakdown in Hoe Street came over the radio to the soundtrack of Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi.

On the drive, I spoke to PC Manning, an officer of three years who previously spent a decade working as a bar supervisor. He joined the Met, he told me, because he “didn’t fancy staying in the hospitality sector” as he was tired of “constantly cleaning and managing people” and the “long hours”.

Officers searching Coronation Gardens

Driver PC Leddy, meanwhile, had been an officer for six years and previously worked in the military police, although he said it had always been his ambition to move to “civilian policing” after hearing stories from a relative who worked for the police growing up.

We arrived at Coronation Gardens at 1.27pm but left just thirteen minutes later after a quick but unfruitful sweep. However, after speaking to a park keeper, the team learned there were often young men loitering in nearby Ive Farm and decided to head there next. 

Though two men sitting on a bench caught PC Doyle’s eye as we entered the park, they had left by the time the team circled back round and the only other people present were a group playing beach volleyball. 

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Ive Farm

A staff member at the Feel Good Too centre confirmed the park keeper’s claim there were often young men hanging around but was keen to stress that they “do not cause problems or trouble”.

Third Hour

At 2.15pm, the van dropped PC Battersby off at a police station so he could fill out the paperwork for the joint they confiscated earlier – we picked him up again just over an hour later – before the rest of the team headed to Langthorne Park in Leytonstone.

PC Doyle told me that the park is “quite well-known for drug dealers”, who “hang around the pagodas” with look-outs in position to whistle when police enter. 

As the team approached the pagodas, three young men were leaving, two of which PC Doyle recognised. He told me he was confident that the third was “involved in some capacity” with the local gang, although previous searches had only found “small bags of weed on him”.

Langthorne Park

Back in the van, while PC Gillies visited a suspect living next to the park to inform him his court date had changed, PC Doyle scrolled through a list of around 40 photos and names of people of interest connected to the park, which included the young man he insisted was a dealer.

Asked what kind of intelligence could make someone like this young man an object of suspicion, he said: “It could be the people he hangs around with or the times of day he frequents the park, especially if he’s always in the same areas.”

However, he added there were likely far more members who never visit the park at all and just “oversee” drug-dealing there, adding: “If you are higher up, you don’t necessarily do the legwork.”

As we drove away shortly before 3pm, he noted that two men on bikes, who had swiftly left the park when police arrived, were re-entering now the coast was clear.

Fourth Hour

PC Doyle seemed increasingly apologetic about the lack of action I had seen so far, while some of the other officers joked that I had effectively snuffed out crime with my presence.

While the extreme heat had perhaps left most people too listless for violence, the sheer concentration of officers in the area had also maybe had the intended effect of deterring crime.

The worst crime we’d seen so far was the temperature

Over the last few hours, we had passed a team of anti-social behaviour officers in Langthorne Park and driven past officers patrolling down High Road, Leyton. As we headed to the police station in Stratford, PC Doyle explained how this boost in police presence was achieved.

He said: “It doesn’t mean we have got more staff, it just means people have a couple weeks of revised duties. 

“These officers could be from intel services or the Criminal Investigation Department, really anyone who works in a detective capacity. It’s about trying to have a high visibility presence to reduce violent activity.”

Fifth Hour

At Stratford, now that the previous unit’s shifts had ended for the day, I joined Sergeant Alistair Hudson and PCs Khan and Nguyen, who would be patrolling in an unmarked car. 

Sergeant Hudson, in plain clothes and a stab-proof vest

As we drove back into the borough, PC Khan told me she had been an officer for “coming up to four years” but that it had been an ambition of hers to join the Met since childhood.

She said: “I’ve wanted to do it since I was ten years old and saw my very first policewoman, I thought she was an angel. It’s definitely lived up to my expectations.”

PC Nguyen had been an officer for over six years and also said it was what he “always wanted to do”, explaining: “It’s the excitement and adrenaline. I wanted to chase bad guys, help victims and keep London safe.”

Sergeant Hudson meanwhile said he chose to join the police 21 years ago because his options post-geography degree were either policing or teaching and the Met, in the midst of a large recruitment drive, had just boosted pay by £5,000 a year.

At 4.19pm, they drove up to Coronation Gardens in the hopes of catching those inside unawares, only to spot a marked police van pulling away at the same time. Sergeant Hudson explained the new borough commander had “put in a lot of micro-beats recently” in response to the heightened violence, of which Coronation Gardens was one.

Driving towards Leyton Tube Station, he remarked that there were “none of the usual faces around” but quickly spotted a young white man in a black tracksuit that he felt looked suspicious given the heat.

After circling around the block, the car pulled up to let PC Nguyen out. After approaching the young man, he almost immediately handcuffed him, explaining to me later that he had felt the shape of a possible weapon in his pocket.

PC Khan holding the suspected weapon

This turned out to be a long, hollow metal pole and – after asking a few questions about where he was headed and where his parents were today – he was arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon.

Somewhat apologetically, Sergeant Hudson told me we would have to part ways. The process of booking this teenager, finding him a solicitor, contacting his parents and doing all the relevant paperwork was likely to take “six to eight hours”, essentially eating up the rest of their shift.

In the end, the biggest takeaway from my day with police was a newfound knowledge of precisely how much admin work the job entails.

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