Redbridge police chief: Twitter novice who led fightback against rioters
In her first year in the job, Redbridge police’s borough commander Sue Williams had to deal with a situation which she agrees was “quite unprecedented”.
Police officers are trained to deal with most eventualities and with 29 years’ experience, including being commended for her work following the London bombings, Mrs Williams is no stranger to pressure.
Having taken the Redbridge top seat in December 2010, she’s had to consider the future of her safer neighbourhood teams, face potential closures of police stations and tackle a rise in burglaries.
But perhaps most taxingly, she led the borough’s police in their fightback during the August riots.
She talks with pride about how her officers dealt with a gang of around 200 rioters in Ilford Town Centre.
“I was on duty at the time on August 8.
“When they came charging down the street, past the police station [in Ilford] I desperately wanted to join everybody on the street.
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“I could see a mob of 200 come running past the nick.
“We had a strategy that we weren’t going to let them stop, we were going to keep them moving out of the town centre and away.
“I sent my Chief Inspector out on the street to do that and I controlled the incident with hourly meetings.”
Officers had to contend with the town centre gang before trouble moved on to Ilford Lane, according to Mrs Williams, who also had to send officers into central London.
The job of reassuring the public followed once the dust had settled, and the Redbridge force was able to honour the professionalism of its staff with a commendation ceremony yesterday (Wednesday).
Investigative work since has led to 105 arrests and 75 suspects charged with riot-related offences including robbery and violent disorder.
Mrs Williams says: “Other boroughs are still playing catch- up six months later.
“We’ve done most of our work. We’ve still got a few offenders’ identities to establish but all the evidence-gathering has practically been done in our borough.
“If you can say there was a success in it, it was that nobody got hurt.
“I know there were a few robberies but you look around and see that people were murdered and there were serious incidents – we weren’t in that category.”
Her daily responsibility of managing around 470 officers is exercised against a backdrop in which borough policing could soon look very different.
As reported in last week’s Recorder, Mrs Williams believes two police stations in the west of the borough could close and the Met is undertaking a review of police station front offices.
She is committed to keeping a permanent base in the west of the borough for safer neighbourhood teams and one idea being considered is the introduction of a mobile police station.
Mrs Williams explains: “We’re still looking to see if we can get a vehicle that will go out and be in a number of key places on certain days to take the front office out into the community.
“If somebody has to come and report a crime they’ll go to one of the two or three main police stations, but if they want advice or support they could go to a key place in the borough and get that information.
“That’s what my vision for the future would be, it’s still early days.
“I’ve got to get the money and the sponsorship for a vehicle.”
Management of the policing budget and staff numbers lies with her – or as she puts it “the buck stops here”.
She says she has not been told of any future cuts to front-line officers but there will be a “slight reduction” in the budget.
Her job, as she describes it, involves holding her officers to account, whether it’s through chairing a daily management meeting or calling in specific teams to discuss cases, such as meeting with the head of forensic management the day before our interview.
She says: “A lot of it is, I wouldn’t say micro-management, but I am into the depths of the management, to make sure people are doing what they should be doing. Apart from the thousands of emails I get every day from everyone else around the Met about what needs to be done.”
Having worked as a uniformed officer and in CID and in the command units of five London boroughs, she can also point to experience with high-profile cases.
She drafted a policing report following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and ran the family liaison units following the 2005 London bombings.
In her first year in Redbridge, she also points to a number of achievements including changing planning to take account of seasonal peaks and troughs in crime and working more closely with Redbridge Council.
She has reviewed how the borough deals with domestic violence and hate crimes (“what I don’t want is if there’s a serious instance of domestic violence, that there’s been a number of incidents in the past that we haven’t responded to properly”) and says the police are now quicker to inform “partners”, including MPs and councillors, of what they are doing.
Though she admits she’s “not great at it yet”, the commander has joined the legions of tweeters to keep the public informed of police operations.
Any tweets from @MPSRedbridge that show (BC) in brackets come straight from her.
The day-to-day business of policing though is, of course, tackling crime and figures reported in last week’s Recorder showed a mixed picture.
Residential burglaries went up from 2,645 in 2010 to 3,096 and robberies against the person increased from 818 to 1,077, while violence against the person and motor vehicle crime, for example, fell.
But Mrs Williams points to a number of measures taken to tackle crime. The borough now has dedicated burglary and robbery teams and detectives go directly to robbery and burglary crime scenes rather than a Pc reporting back to the station.
As she puts it, it’s about “really getting into” offenders.
She says: “Our arrests are up 31 per cent on last year, our charges are up 56 per cent on last year. We’ve already identified our top 10 robbers and our top 10 burglars. All the SNTs have an ‘adopt-a-burglar’ where with a key burglar on their ward they look to do intelligence work so we can get arrest warrants.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is about making this borough a hostile environment for offenders.”