More police, but crime is devastating Brixton businesses

hand written sign
DIY sign in Bernay’s Grove, central Brixton

A few more police officers are due to be patrolling Brixton streets at their most troubled times, a meeting organised by the Brixton Business Improvement District (BID) heard this morning (9 October).

Sergeant Jacob Obiorah, who oversees three Brixton wards covering most of the town centre, said they should start work “in the next couple of weeks”.

With the arrival of a new borough commander, the Metropolitan police force’s much vaunted Brixton town centre team has been moved “to tackle other areas of policing”.

The new police officers, who will be in addition to existing local officers, are due to patrol on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings.

Called at relatively short notice, the BID meeting heard from a succession of large and small local businesses of the devastating effects on their trade of drug use and dealing which, many speakers stressed, goes on in full public view in broad daylight all over central Brixton.

Brixton Station Road and Atlantic Road were mentioned repeatedly.

urban street
Atlantic Road

Drug users were stealing openly and in bulk from local shops and bars and the police and council appeared powerless to stop – or even acknowledge – this, said speaker after speaker.

“We open at six and they’ll come in for breakfast, which is generally a bottle of vodka, which they’ll down in the shop, knowing that they’re not going be stopped,” said one.

“We get youths coming in from schools stealing sweets and, again, they will leave the store knowing that we won’t really do much to prevent it from happening.

“And then we have the more hardened ones that will come in and grab five or six bottles of Jack Daniels or champagne and run out through the fire exit.”

Tesco stores locally log 300 such incidents a month.

Many speakers said that they know who the dealers are and also the local businesses that will buy goods from shoplifters.

Sgt Obiorah agreed that the police also knew who many of the criminals are, but pointed out that many travel into Brixton, some from as far away as North London.

He pleaded with businesses to continue to report crimes, saying that this was the key factor in how scarce resources were allocated.

He also said that police were acting against anti-social behaviour, using the system of “community protection” warnings, notices and orders.

But he pointed out that, for many of the people involved, being arrested and charged with a crime was no deterrent and would not stop their behaviour.

Among them many examples of local crime and anti-social that every speaker said is at its worst level and intensity in living memory, were:

  • Large dogs running free in Brixton Station Road
  • East European gang members who wait in a local bank to identify and then rob vulnerable and old people – with no response from police to reports of this from bank staff
  • A recent stabbing victim “bleeding out” in Pop Brixton – where the meeting took place
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Police at an incident outside Pop Brixton

Pop has been broken into so often that it now employs overnight security adding £50,000 a year to its costs at a time when all local businesses are struggling.

One restaurant owner warned that businesses were in danger of closing with the loss of local jobs and that yet more empty premises – like those on Atlantic Road – would encourage yet more anti-social behaviour and criminality.

Already, another speaker said, Christmas bookings worth many thousands are being cancelled as the reputation of Brixton becomes grimmer and grimmer.

Closing the meeting, Gianluca Rizzo, managing director of Brixton BID, thanked Sgt Obiorah and Trevor Virtue, head of regulatory services at Lambeth council, for joining the meeting.

Many speakers had called for more senior people from the police and council politicians to hear their complaints and explain what, if anything, was being done about them.

Gianluca Rizzo said another meeting in about six weeks would be organised to discuss what was being done.

The ballot of local businesses that the BID, founded in 2013, needs to continue its work for another five years closes on 18 October.