Bobby on the beat who came to east London ‘kicking and screaming’ is ready to take over as the Met’s new Central East Commander
- Credit: Mike Brooke
They call her ‘Ma’am’ as they pass the new ‘super borough’ Tower Hamlets and Hackney police commander walking down the corridor to her office ready for the day’s action.
Sue Williams already has her feet under the table at Bethnal Green police station where she’s been Tower Hamlets commander since 2015.
Now she also takes over the reins of neighbouring Hackney from October as police chief of the Met’s new ‘Central East Command’ stretching from Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the south to Stamford Hill and Finsbury Park in the north.
The wife of a retired police inspector dedicates her working day to her vision for making east London a safer place than it was.
New two-level policing is on the drawing board with small teams covering wards and housing estates like before, but with a second tier of ‘neighbourhood’ squads with 48 officers which can be sent to any area at any time.
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“I intend setting up a task force responding across the two boroughs,” the detective superintendant explains. “They could be tackling drugs or prostitution which our local ward officers can’t do on their own.”
She is one of 12 Met commanders being appointed across London, each heading what effectively is its own police force, but with its “head office” at Scotland Yard.
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The new Central East Command ignores the borough boundary between Tower Hamlets and Hackney to tackle the serous stuff like drugs, gun crime, murder and organised gangs.
Boundary Street behind Shoreditch Church is now at its centre, rather than the ‘Berlin Wall’ it was before.
At the other end is a network of local ward teams that Sue Williams is ring-fencing.
“The old ward system still works well with people knowing their local officers,” she tells you.
“But they will now be backed by this extra neighbourhood team able to flex across the two boroughs which can respond to any kind of public order incident or where someone gets stabbed. We can send officers into that area to patrol and do weapons sweeps, which we can’t do if everyone is on their own patch.”
Tower Hamlets ward policing is what Cmdr Williams believes is “the best of the current system”, with the mayor dipping into the public coffers to fund 42 officers.
“We’re looking to do something similar in Hackney which has only funded one officer,” she tells you.
Sue Williams may have risen to the heights of an inner circle of 12 ‘super commanders’ in the Met, but started humbly as a bobby on the beat in Kilburn after her basic training at Hendon in 1981 where she met her future husband and who, she reveals, “took 10 years before he asked me out on a date”. They live north of Wembley with their teenage daughter who has “absolutely no intention” of following in mum’s footsteps.
WPc Williams cut her teeth on serious crime in west London getting involved in drugs operations before joining the Central Drugs Squad at Scotland Yard and later Regional Drugs Squad.
“I went from dealing with the low-level dealers to the ‘Premier Division’, the really heavy organised crime stuff,” she recalls.
“Then I was posted to Waltham Forest in 2007 kicking and screaming because it was east London and I didn’t want to go. It was the wrong area for me.”
But this is where she cut another set of teeth on community work, realising an ability to create working partnerships that made her ideal to mend fences in Tower Hamlets when appointed borough commander in 2015—following the end of the Lutfur Rahman era.
“The police didn’t have a brilliant relationship,” she admits. “They wanted me to smooth things and get the community back on our side.
“Our senior leadership had been a little fractious and they wanted me to build a new team.”
It’s a tough manor, with far more knife crime and street gang crime. Yet she makes the effort to win over the community, speaking last summer at a Whitechapel rally calling for police action following a fatal stabbing in Mile End and appearing with the mayor at public questions-and-answers sessions.
“Nothing shocks me,” she insists. “But I found more violence when I came to the East End, more gang crime and unfortunately more murders.
“Anti-social behaviour was out of control. Drugs and gang rivalry sit underneath it.
“What we needed was to get the community on board—the crime would take care of itself. Deal with the people involved in street crime, then crime will start coming down on its own.”
It is already having some effect, with average rise in crime at just 2.3 per cent—half the average across the Met. Hackney’s crime is actually going down by the same rate, balancing it out.
The new Central East commander starts off in October with level-pegged crime rate heading in the right direction.