Behave Yourselves

The photographs of eight young men, each a persistent offender,
stare down from the walls. They are all aged between 14-17 and have
heroin problems. Someone has written “Beware of these males” in
green highlighter pen next to two of the photos.

This forbidding introduction to the Newham antisocial behaviour
team’s headquarters, set amid squat beige buildings and several
portakabins just off east London’s Barking Road, serves as a
reminder that operating as a member of such a team is not for the
faint-hearted. So, to work…

1pm – The eight-strong team of community
constables start their shift early for our photo shoot. Already
their walkie-talkies constantly beep and chatter. Pele Mahmood, a
plain-clothes visiting officer for the crime and antisocial
behaviour division, shows me the council’s antisocial behaviour
bus. He and the team take it around to different parts of the
borough several times a week to highlight the issue and let
residents know what they can do when they experience antisocial
behaviour. He grew up in Newham so knows the area’s problem
hotspots well.

Previously one of the community constables, Pele is on secondment
for the next two months to the division and will visit alleged
victims and alleged perpetrators of antisocial behaviour across the
borough. It is a job he enjoys and he reckons he is able to defuse
half of all the cases he is allocated simply by visiting people and
listening to what they say, “without having to wave a big stick at

1.15pm – Community constabulary sergeant Paul
Singleton gets a message on his walkie-talkie about an incident at
the council’s one-stop shop office on Green Street. A man with
mental health problems is causing a disturbance within the office
and Paul dispatches four officers to deal with it.

Pele drives to a local primary school to see the head teacher
following her complaint about an alleged incident of racist
behaviour between parents. Pele interviews the head teacher about
the alleged incident, carefully taking notes. The head teacher asks
for the school not to be identified in this feature for fear of
attracting the wrong sort of publicity. Next, Pele hears first-hand
from the school’s admin officer about the verbal exchange between
the parents. He has to coax her into using the exact swear words
she heard. Conducting both interviews takes an hour and Pele jokes
he wants a cup of tea in future.

After the interviews Pele has to report back to his superiors and a
decision will be made as to whether or not the parents will need to
be visited to give statements.

3.40pm – Next on Pele’s list is a visit to the
Uddin family (not their real name), who live in temporary
accommodation on the eighth floor of a tower block. Two weeks ago
31-year-old Mohammad Uddin was assaulted by five young men aged 15
to 19 while walking home.

It was 12.30pm and he had just finished his job at an Indian
takeaway. One of the teenagers stopped him and Mohammad, who does
not speak English, immediately gave him his bus pass and the only
money he had – £10. This did not stop the group from attacking
him and breaking his nose in four places and damaging his legs. His
wife Nehar had to stand him in the bath to wash the blood off after
he stumbled home.

Pele had interviewed Mohammad the day before after the division was
contacted by the family’s local councillor about the incident.
Today, he checks if they have any other questions arising from the

Mohammad, speaking through his wife, says he wants more CCTV
cameras in the area and Pele assures him they are already in place.
So how does it feel having a professional such as Pele visit? “It
is like they care because someone has intervened,” says Nehar. When
asked what Mohammad wants to happen to the young people who
attacked him his answer surprises us all: “I want them to be
educated to know that this behaviour is wrong. Putting them in
prison would only make them more stubborn.”

4.30pm – Pele drives to Tesco to stock up with
sandwiches, salad and doughnuts for lunch. The food is eaten back
in the main office with community constables Tejae Greaves and her
husband and work partner Von Greaves, who are not yet out on a
call. Pele says he is often so busy he forgets to eat. A discussion
starts between Tejae and Von, who are sharing a Chinese takeaway,
about the behaviour of the young people they come across. “You just
wouldn’t have been like that to your parents when I was a kid,”
says Von. He became a community constable in early summer after
completing the same training and exams as those entering the
Metropolitan police. He had spent the past 20 years working in club
security, which is how he met his wife Tejae, and feels he has the
relevant experience required for the job.

6pm – Sergeant Paul Singleton is coming to the end
of his shift and the tiredness shows in his eyes. He has been on
the go all day as the only sergeant on duty. But now, finally, he
sits down and accepts a doughnut. After nearly 10 years as a
volunteer special constable with Essex police, Paul joined Newham’s
community constabulary five years ago as a constable and was
promoted to sergeant after 12 months. He sees his role as that of
an educator: “We have to protect people and property and we have to
educate people to be responsible.” Part of this involves acting as
a mediator between people and the services they can recommend. “As
a local authority police service we have access to all its
services,” he says. “This means we don’t go in heavy handed but try
to find a way of accessing the youth service or football club to
help them focus on something else.”

7pm – Tejae and Von Greaves start a patrol of the
area in their marked car. As night falls in Newham the atmosphere
changes, becoming more threatening. As we drive past a tube station
Von points out the local drug dealers hanging around outside. They
look all of 17 years old.

Tejae has worked for Newham for more than two years having worked
in a similar role for Hammersmith and Fulham Council. She says:
“You have to be able to communicate with people, especially young
people, at their own level.” Tejae proves this point when we drive
through a small, respectable-looking housing estate and are greeted
by a group of 10 teenage boys. They all laugh and smile with her
and Von and joke around with our photographer. So how do they feel
about having an antisocial team check up on them? Chulon Nim, 17,
says he feels safer knowing the community constables are around. He
is quick to mention that while some groups of teenagers “want to
cause” trouble, he and his friends do not. John Wright, also 17, is
more critical. “They pick on a certain area and drive up and down
non-stop. We live around here and they expect us to go to other

8pm – It’s clocking off time after a long shift.
Everyone goes home weary, ready to do the same tomorrow.

A first for Newham:  The London Borough of
Newham is the first council in the country to have a
multi-disciplinary division dedicated to tackling antisocial
behaviour. Its crime and antisocial behaviour division is part of
Newham’s community constabulary. The division contains 33 community
constables and four community sergeants divided into six teams. The
teams work in four shifts over a 24-hour period. They operate
alongside 30 community police support officers, six metropolitan
police officers, three metropolitan police sergeants, a
metropolitan police inspector and 10 borough wardens, all directly
employed by the council.  Such is Newham’s commitment to tackling
antisocial behaviour that mayor Robin Wales allocated the crime and
antisocial behaviour division £10m on top of its existing
budget for 2004-6.  The division is based in Newham Council’s
emergency and control centre.

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