Local bobby Thomas Cooke on policing the streets during lockdown
PC Thomas Cooke on Uxbridge Road. Picture: Darren Pepe
There’s more to policing in a patch like Shepherd's Bush than watching drug dealers and chasing shoplifters.
Especially since the lockdown, PC Thomas Cooke has found himself coming to the rescue of families needing emergency accommodation, and connecting vulnerable people with social services.
His inboxes, on email and various social media accounts, have been filled with tip offs and concerns from residents about social distancing.
Rather than respond to 999 calls, he’s one of three dedicated ward officers for Shepherd’s Bush who are there to be the community’s familiar insiders, and know more about the place than some people who were born there (even though he’s from outside London).
“My ward is very different,” says the 33-year-old, who has been in this unique role since 2017.
“We’ve got independent cafes and we’ve got Westfield. We’ve got Shepherd’s Bush Green, Goldhawk Road, the BBC and loads of new flats coming, all different kinds of communities.
“But I find that if I walk to my left or my right, I’ll speak to people, whatever kind of situation they’re in.”
And while Black Lives Matter has put policing under the spotlight, especially in areas as diverse as this, PC Cooke says all sorts of people are “very forthcoming”.
“In every road within the ward we try to have a bond with a community member who would speak for the street. Lots of people talk to us from different places,” he said.
Like every frontline service, police officers saw dramatic changes to their jobs under lockdown.
“Domestic and neighbour issues really rose”, he said. And drug dealing on the streets became “more evident” while the vast majority of us were staying at home.
PC Cooke was partly responsible for a video that went viral during the first weekend of lockdown.
He was one of several officers who advanced on Shepherd’ Bush Green, equipped with megaphones, to warn sunbathers: “Guys, you can’t stay on the Green, can you all go home please? It’s not a holiday, it’s a lockdown.”
Through April and May, they received “a lot of complaints about social distancing issues,” including from Facebook and Twitter. He says social media is very much a part of being on the beat.
“You had people ringing us with all sorts of things,” said PC Cooke, “whether that be a shop or the car wash or delivery drivers who weren’t keeping a social distance.
“Obviously these people were calling us because they were shielding, or didn’t feel confident going outside, so their feelings were ‘I’m staying indoors and it’s a really difficult time for me but I’m seeing people not social distancing on the street’.”
He puts a lot of emphasis on his ability to talk through those situations. “A lot of the time it was words of advice and people were listening and totally understood where we were coming from.”
As lockdown has eased, street parties and illegal raves have become a new challenge for police and residents alike. Just outside of PC Cooke’s patch, the White City estate saw a clash with police in early July that became one of the most reported in the media.
“With some of these music events we can anticipate levels of violence and we get reports of drug use, it’s something we have to respond to,” he said.
“And we want to keep that confidence from within the public who call us… There’s been flyers being put out sometimes. We get that intel that is put on police systems.”
When asked about moments of this year that he’ll remember, PC Cooke tells of a young family for whom he pulled some strings to find them emergency housing.
“We attended a call in White City, in May, where a family and two young children had a pipe leak that waterlogged their flat, to the point where they were sitting in candlelight.
“Because of the relationship I know I’ve got in my ward, I approached the Dorsett Hotel and I asked if they would be able to put this family up, because everywhere was closed.
“They duly put the family up until [local authority] emergency housing became available, which I thought was absolutely fantastic. And they had NHS workers in the hotel staying there.”
He then told of a tip off from social media “about a female who was bed ridden and had some issues with the care of her family due to them being on drugs…
“Just recently there’s been an injunction, after we completed a closure order on a property and got appropriate care for her.”
He continued: “These were the kinds of things we were having to deal with through lockdown that were really difficult.
“Not things that people would associate with policing.
“For me, as a ward officer, it always comes down to the relationship I’ve got in my ward and people within it.”
Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter
August 19, 2020