Det Insp Dan Brown on being ahead of the game fighting robbery and theft in Hackney
- Credit: Archant
Dealing with the ever-changing nature of theft and street robberies in Hackney is a bit like a game according to Det Insp Dan Brown, who is based at Stoke Newington Police Station.
“Problems come up and we hit them on the head,” the head of the serious acquisitive crime unit tells me at Stoke Newington police station, where he presides over a team of 25 robbery and burglary detectives.
“It’s like a game: we are constantly inventing ways to overcome crime and we have to change our tactics, in that the criminals get wise to them,” he added.
In Hackney, thefts are generally split into two areas according to Det Insp Brown – pickpockets, predominantly eastern European, operating at the weekend around the Shoreditch club scene, and then mobile phone thefts, grabbed from the hands of unwitting victims.
The crimes are committed by younger people, including children as young as 12, who operate in the south of Hackney on the border with Islington and either travel on foot, bicycle or – more dangerously for the public – on a moped.
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Det Insp Brown doesn’t believe the crimes are necessarily gang related, but said the more violent robberies tend to form part of gang initiations.
To show his point Det Insp Brown uses council CCTV images of a robbery in Mare Street, Hackney last June.
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A man in his 20s who had been out for a drink, becomes the target of a gang member who had been searching for a victim for some time.
Det Insp Brown said: “He’s got something in his right hand, that’s a knife in his pocket, and this other guy has no idea he is there.
“He’s holding the knife into his side, the victim is a big guy but that doesn’t really matter.”
The gang leader who ordered the robbery was later arrested for a separate incident – and the stolen mobile phone was recovered and linked him to this crime.
Searches on his own mobile phone showed he had been directing the perpetrator around the area to track down a victim.
Both men were sentenced last week for robbery.
“It shows that at 3am you might want to plan your way home and get a cab when you’ve had too much to drink and you are vulnerable,” said Det Insp Brown, who believes prevention is key.
He presents another piece of CCTV footage – this time of a post office manager transporting £23,000 cash in a plastic bag.
Two young men had been hiding in wait at a nearby internet café, and pounced on his car as it turned up, attacking him and making off with the money.
“This illustrates the same point that the owner is really taking a risk – he could have paid for Securicor but he chose to carry a bag,” said Det Insp Brown.
“I appreciate that for small businesses it’s a lot of money but at least you need to change your routine. They knew when he would arrive and when he would leave. It was pretty violent and pretty horrible for the victim.”
Det Insp Brown is also keen to stress mobile phone thefts are usually preventable.
“They’re valuable. You wouldn’t walk down the street waving £300 in cash, yet people do it with phones,” he said.
Along with his office-based team, Det Insp Brown oversees a task force constantly patrolling Hackney in unmarked cars to both maintain a presence and respond to thefts and robberies as quickly as possible.
Once a crime is reported to the emergency services the task force arrives within five minutes.
Part of his role is to also identify trends in criminality and issue operations in response.
“If a problem does emerge, such as the wave of fairly violent street robberies around the north of Homerton Hospital last year, one tactic is to flood the area with police,” he said.
“We didn’t get any convictions but by disrupting the activity it seems to have stopped.”
Similar tactics were used in January in Operation Matrix which targeted the top 10 streets in the borough for street robbery and saw one officer patrolling an area of just 100 yards throughout the day. An operation in November saw marine police going up and down the Regent’s Canal to reduce robberies on the towpath.
“We sometimes bring in the horses as well. It’s an example of the highly visible tactics we use to try to reduce street crime and keep one step ahead,” said Det Insp Brown, who played a central role in the Operation Haka raids three weeks ago, which saw more than 500 officers involved in a series of 25 raids on suspected Hoxton drug dealers.
“Hopefully it will have an impact,” he said. “We know there’s a link between drugs and street crime. We can’t think one day will change everything, but it comes back to always being ahead of the game, continually changing tactics to combat and reduce crime.”