Outgoing Hampstead and Highgate sergeant on policing the pandemic
- Credit: Sgt John Hounsell
Hampstead and Highgate’s outgoing police sergeant has hailed the areas’ “fantastic communities” which have supported the Met’s work through the pandemic.
On June 1 Sgt John Hounsell will move on to work as a supervisor in response policing for Scotland Yard. He will be replaced by Nicky O’Hara.
Having spent more than 18 months in charge of neighbourhood policing for Hampstead and Highgate, areas he has served since 2015, Sgt Hounsell said the decision to move on felt “bittersweet”.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” the 27-year-old told the Ham&High.
“Hampstead and Highgate are such fantastic communities. It’s been wonderful to work here – very enjoyable and easy to integrate and work alongside the community because everyone’s so passionate.
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“There's certainly been a lot of challenges though, especially in the context of the pandemic."
The sergeant pointed to an operation to tackle robbery on Hampstead Heath as one of his “most valuable” pieces of work, highlighting robbery and burglary as the wards’ two main areas of crime.
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While there was a decline in shoplifting, theft, burglaries and robberies on the Heath during the height of lockdown, Sgt Hounsell said that maintaining law and order during the pandemic had proved a “unique” period.
“I think on the whole we've done our best to do our bit during the pandemic to keep people safe and use our powers as appropriately and sensibly as possible,” he said.
“It's a very difficult balance to strike because the pandemic has been so polarising. People will always have differing views about our role, about the pandemic in general.
“But I believe we've acted fairly and done our best. It was never going to be an easy job.”
Looking ahead to how crime may evolve coming out of the pandemic, Sgt Hounsell said officers were expecting “a period of adaptation” getting back to “normal” levels of crime.
“In some ways criminals may have found different avenues to commit crimes under the pandemic.
“So we're almost going into the unknown somewhat, but I'd be very confident to say that we should be keeping an eye on robbery because that is the general London trend at the moment – youth violence and robbery. So when the summer is back that will be the focus.”
Another impact of the pandemic is the rise of cuckooing, Sgt Hounsell said, where vulnerable people are exploited by criminals who turn their homes into sites for drug dealing or other illegal activities.
“It went from something I was only vaguely aware of to something that I have become very involved in and very passionate about raising awareness for,” he said.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in the local community because it is so prevalent. Hampstead and Highgate have had quite a few severe cases where vulnerable people and elderly people have had their homes taken over.”
The 27-year-old said there was one case in Hampstead where the address of an elderly lady address was “completely taken over”; and of all her money and food stolen – forcing her to eat from bins.
“One of my officers did so much work to get legal orders on the address preventing anyone from entering,” he said.
“We got the lady into more suitable accommodation and she is now able to live freely and comfortably out of the influence of these people.
“That’s what I found most rewarding – to take people who are in really desperate situations and do everything we can with our partners to address it.”
Sgt Hounsell said the lockdown had seen crime move “behind closed doors”.
“If you were out on the street for criminal purposes you stuck out a lot more, so people who are involved in drug crime have adapted to find private spaces to do that... and that’s where cuckooing has lent itself to,” he said.
“They want to get off the street so they're using addresses of vulnerable people to avoid being caught.”
In his parting message, Sgt Hounsell urged residents to contact their local officers “as much as possible”.
“The more we talk the more effective we can be, and the more we know our areas,” he said.
For more information on Hampstead Town’s and Highgate’s neighbourhood policing teams visit www.met.police.uk/a/your-area/met/camden/hampstead-town or www.met.police.uk/a/your-area/met/haringey/highgate