By Peter Whyatt
Residents of Fitzroy Square now employ a security guard and dog to patrol the square in the evenings. Edward Turner, chair of Fitzroy Square Frontagers, told Fitzrovia News that the incidence of anti-social behaviour in the square had increased dramatically over the past few years and the disturbance has meant that residents have been unable to get a decent night’s sleep and have felt threatened when returning home in the late evening.
Mr Turner said: “There have typically been three separate teenage gangs, mainly local, congregating in doorways and on the benches in the square making noise, dropping litter and being an intimidating presence. And they have been seen using or dealing drugs and are associated with cars that frequent the square,” he said.
The residents felt that the police and local authority did not have the inclination or resources to tackle the problem. Two of the residents stepped forward to underwrite the costs (about £20,000) and hoped that residents (including businesses and close neighbours) would contribute on a voluntary basis. Some have contributed but others not. Everyone in the square is given access to the security guard’s protection. For example, they can ask to be escorted to and from their doorways whether or not they have paid into the service.
“The security guard is licensed, insured and trained in security and dog handling to the same standards as the police,” he continued. “The company he works for, has a number of contracts with local authorities and housing associations to provide security for residents on sites across London.
“The security guard is able to challenge anti-social behaviour instantaneously, and to call for police back-up when needed. The dogs are usually muzzled, but may be unmuzzled in response to a specific threat. The guard is required to issue a warning before using his dog in defence or to apprehend a suspect. The dog is trained to seize the arm of a suspect, unbalancing them so that they fall over, and then to pin them to the ground on their back until they are arrested. The guard works with the full co-operation of the Metropolitan Police, the Safer Neighbourhood Team and local authority wardens,” said Mr Turner.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for anti-social behaviour; people who do not abide by this policy will be asked to leave the square,” he warned. “The police are involved immediately if illegal drugs are detected in the square (whether dealing or using).
“We have no problem with homeless people or people drinking alcohol in the square; the same rules apply to them as to everyone else. We deal sensitively and tolerantly with any vulnerable local residents who inadvertently engage in anti-social behaviour.”
Mr Turner said: “The security guard was subjected to threats of violence for the first few weeks and there was a daily stand-off against the gangs. Eventually they adopted more threatening tactics so the police intervened, and the gangs have since dissipated.
“The evening ambience of the square has been transformed and it is now a welcoming and safer place,” concluded Mr Turner. “The drug dealers’ cars no longer turn up; the gangs have largely left; it is usually litter free in the mornings and Fitzroy Square is now enjoyed by a wider group of people, including local elderly people, young couples and individuals, and people passing through late at night looking for somewhere to pause.”