Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker talks to James Cracknell about recent changes to policing in Waltham Forest – and a big rise in violent crime
Major changes to the structure of the Metropolitan Police Service have been implemented in the past few months, as cuts from government take their toll.
The Met’s budget has been reduced by more than £600million – a cut of around 20 percent – over the past eight years. In practical terms this has led to the closure of 120 police buildings, the loss of around four thousand back-office staff posts, and a reduction of two-thirds of police community support officers (PCSOs).
Police stations in Leytonstone and Walthamstow had already been closed in recent years, prior to the Mayor of London’s announcement last autumn that the only remaining police front counter in E17 – Walthamstow Town Centre Police Office – would also be shut. It left Chingford Police Station as the only place in the borough where a crime could be reported in person.
Then, in the new year, came the news that 32 separate borough police units would be disbanded and merged to form twelve new ‘basic command units’. It meant merging Waltham Forest’s policing operation with Newham’s.
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker, the borough commander in Waltham Forest and now also in Newham, agreed to talk to Waltham Forest Echo to address people’s concerns over the impact of all these changes, as well as a recent spate of violent crime.
“For me personally it is a big job,” he said. “It won’t be double the work but it will be double the responsibility. I was a young detective constable and inspector there [in Newham] and now I will be going back. It is a big challenge.
“I will have a team of five superintendents and six chief inspectors. When I used to get to a meeting previously maybe now a chief inspector will go instead, because I won’t have the time.
“We have gone from 32 borough commanders down to twelve – that is more work. I don’t intend to do 15-hour days but it is not an eight-hour day either. There might be teething problems but my goal is for the public to not notice any difference.”
One concern is that the move will mean police officers being pulled away from Leyton or Leytonstone to tackle crimes in Newham.
“It would have to be a very serious incident for us to drain all our cops into Stratford or West Ham. Likewise it works the other way. If needs be, we can put additional staff into Waltham Forest. I can see the benefits. I will have more assets to put into the problem areas.”
Whereas Waltham Forest on its own had around 550 police officers, Det Ch Supt Tucker says the combined force with Newham will number around 1,300.
“No-one likes change but this will evolve into a better policing model. It is not without its challenges.”
Could response times be impacted?
“In trials there has been a dip in response times but actually those problems are being overcome and they are being improved. It is not just about how quickly you get there but what you do when you get there.”
And what happens if the police budget is cut again in future?
“I do worry about further cuts and being forced to remodel again. I don’t want to become a reactive service. I want to look at the long-term problems and solve them.”
The Echo recently revealed violent crimes in Waltham Forest had nearly doubled in six years. Last November, an 18-year-old was stabbed to death in Walthamstow, while last month a 20-year-old man was shot dead in Essex Close and a 41-year-old man was stabbed to death in Vallentin Road. Two boys aged 17 and 15 have been charged in connection to the Essex Close incident.
Last night, the Met launched yet another murder investigation after a 16-year-old boy died from gunshot injuries sustained on Monday in Markhouse Road, Walthamstow, at around 10pm. A 15-year-old boy was also stabbed in the same incident.
Det Ch Supt Tucker said the Met Police had put a lot of additional resources into tackling violent crime, but admited it was becoming an increasingly difficult problem to solve.
“There is a lack of fear in young men. They are making poor life choices. We relied on having a presence on the street and over three or four years there were very steep reductions in crime in Waltham Forest – concentrating on the high crime wards in Leyton and Lea Bridge, and putting resources there. There was a 30 percent reduction.
“But resources have now been refocussed away from traditional crime-fighting roles to focussing on safeguarding and tackling the number of missing people.
“We have had to change our planning – we want to get the balance right. I move the chess pieces around to respond to the risks. We have enough resources to deal with everything, it is just about putting officers in the right places.”
Is the rise in youth violence connected to the budget cuts at the Met?
“I wouldn’t say the cuts have had an impact on something like knife crime. The knife crime issue is about gang culture. It is not a binary problem.”
Det Ch Supt Tucker does admit that the location of Waltham Forest’s last remaining police station, in Chingford, is not ideal. Most crime in the borough happens several miles away.
However, he says: “Now we have got mobile devices which means we don’t come back to the station to fill in a report each time. We can put resources where they are most needed.
“Without doubt some of the changes wouldn’t be happening if there weren’t cuts, but I would rather have police officers than police stations. Chingford Police Station is not in the most ideal place for Waltham Forest. That decision was made in regard to the whole of the Met’s estate.
“Police stations cost a huge amount of money. I wanted Walthamstow [police office] to stay but it cost £80,000 a year to run and the decision was made to close it. I appreciate the market is a place where you want an office like that, but it is still a base for officers. We are now working with the local council to develop a new base in The Mall.
“People need to start using emails and our telephone system because there are no resources now for the old fashioned way of reporting crime.”
Det Ch Supt Tucker is an East Londoner through and through, having been born in Mile End and raised in Ilford. His career in the Met began in 1989, in Romford, and he was a borough commander in Camden prior to getting the job in Waltham Forest two years ago.
“This job is incredibly demanding but also incredibly rewarding,” he says. “I could have retired two years ago but I wanted to continue coming to work and seeing amazing people everyday. The fundamentals are still the same – trying to help people and make a difference.”
If you have any information relating to any of the recent violent crimes in Waltham Forest:
If you’d like to remain anonymous, contact Crimestoppers:
Call 0800 555 111