'We're making progress': Redbridge councillor on tackling organised begging gangs

Redbridge councillor discusses operation to dismantle organised begging gangs

Cllr Khayer Chowdhury - Redbridge's cabinet member for crime, safety and community cohesion - told the Recorder that progress in being made in Operation Raptor. - Credit: Redbridge Council

Redbridge Council's cabinet member for crime and safety believes progress is being made in the fight against organised begging gangs.

Speaking exclusively to the Recorder, councillor Khayer Chowdhury promised residents that Operation Raptor, set up to tackle the issue, is making inroads. 

He said: "One of the most frequent complaints made by residents when they contact me is that they can’t go out to the shop without being accosted, sometimes aggressively.” 

Redbridge councillor discusses operation to dismantle organised begging gangs

Since Operation Raptor began, Cllr Khayer Chowdhury said officers have issued 30 Community Protection Warnings and Notices, whilst five rough sleepers have been referred for support and shelter. - Credit: Redbridge Council

The Labour councillor explained that Operation Raptor is designed to stop criminality by catching the organised begging gangs that are duping the people of Redbridge.

Its second objective is to tackle other types of crime associated with the practice. 

Thirdly, Operation Raptor aims to get rough sleepers off the street and engaged with the appropriate services.

A team - made up of Met Police, council enforcement officers and those from its multi-agency tasking team - are tasked with hitting the three objectives.

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So far, Cllr Chowdhury feels it has been a success: "We're making progress. Since the operation began, 30 Community Protection warnings and notices have been issued, whilst five rough sleepers have been referred for support and shelter."

Community Protection Notices (CPN) are imposed against those who engage in persistent antisocial behaviour.

These notices are intended to deter possible organised begging gangs from operating in Redbridge. 

This is the initial action, said Cllr Chowdhury, who stresses that the council will take things further if necessary.

Should a recipient not comply, it can ask the magistrates court to impose a Criminal Behaviour Order which will prohibit them from entering a specific area.

He explains how he and the team go about their work: "Much of what we do is based on intelligence.

Redbridge councillor discusses operation to dismantle organised begging gangs

Cllr Chowdhury said Operation Raptor aims to stop people being accosted by organised begging gangs. - Credit: Redbridge Council

"We have spent months gathering intelligence on these organised begging gangs, which has shown us that they are often linked to other types of criminality. It has also highlighted that these groups operate in areas other than Redbridge.” 

With a few months of Operation Raptor under the team's belt, have residents seen any changes?

Cllr Chowdhury said: "The response has been good so far.

"I’ve received messages from people who say they can see an improvement in areas such as Ilford Lane and Barkingside High Street.

"There is no deadline to this operation - we are looking for long-term solutions to this.” 

But the councillor acknowledged the operation is only one part of dealing with a wider range of problems.

"I'm not saying that this operation is going to eradicate every issue in Redbridge, but I do hope it will help address a really significant one."

Redbridge councillor discusses operation to dismantle organised begging gangs

Since February, the Met Police and Redbridge Enforcement Officers have been working to tackle organised begging gangs and other associated crime. - Credit: Redbridge Council

While the operation mainly focuses on tackling criminality, the councillor considers it important to make provision for rough sleepers. 

Cllr Chowdhury said the compassion shown by officers in such instances mirrors the council's overall approach, which he believes has placed Redbridge “at the forefront" of tackling rough sleeping.

He makes reference to Project Malachi, a pop-up homeless hostel in Ilford, and to Redbridge being one of the first local authorities to offer Covid-19 testing and vaccination to those who are homeless.

With no cut-off point for this operation, what is the goal?

"This operation has two aims. The first will be achieved when I can sit in a room with the CCTV briefing team and they tell me nobody has been stopped for a significant period of time. Then I’ll know we’ve made a visible improvement.

"The second is when I can see that Operation Raptor is making a difference in other areas of crime too."

Cllr Chowdhury wishes to stress two final points: firstly, residents' input is always welcome. 

Redbridge councillor discusses operation to dismantle organised begging gangs

Cllr Chowdhury recently spent time out with the Multi-Agency Tasking Team tasked with tackling organised begging gangs. - Credit: Redbridge Council

Those wishing to make a complaint or offer feedback can do so by visiting redbridge.gov.uk/crime-and-public-safety/anti-social-behaviour/.

Secondly, the councillor said a campaign will launch to encourage residents to help good causes off the back of this operation.

“There are so many brilliant charities in Redbridge. We want residents to help them, should they feel able to."

Cllr Chowdhury can be contacted by emailing khayer.chowdhury@redbridge.gov.uk or via Twitter.