Hundreds of residents have called for ‘more bobbies on the beat’ amid fears crime, alcoholism, drug-dealing and betting shops are driving people out of Mitcham town centre.
More than 200 residents packed into St Mark’s Church on Saturday morning to raise concerns with police and bookie chiefs at a public meeting co-ordinated by MP Siobhain McDonagh.
The meeting comes six weeks after Seth Adu, 26, was found stabbed with critical injuries in Montrose Gardens.
MP McDonagh said: "There have been concerns about safety in the town centre for some time but these concerns have got worse in the last few months and there are people who are choosing to move from the town centre because they think it’s not safe."
"I don’t think there’s a simple solution to this. Yes, I do think policing numbers are an issue and how the town centre looks is an issue and until recently I was sceptical the betting shops were an issue, but so many people tell me they are, I’m beginning to think that’s the case."
Merton police boss Stuart Macleod disputed perceptions of an increase in crime by quoting statistics gathered by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) showing a reduction in crime in Merton.
In response to a question about policing levels at the time of the meeting, Chief Superintendent Macleod said there wasn’t a single police officer patrolling in Mitcham on Saturday morning.
Policing numbers have fallen across the capital since the Government slashed MPS funding by 20 per cent, to save £500m between 2013 and 2015.
For Merton police, ward-dedicated safer neighbhourhood teams (SNTs), staffed by a sergeant, two police constables (PCs) and three police community support officers (PCSOs), have been replaced by neighbourhood policing teams led by a sergeant with responsibility for more than one ward.
Chief Supt Macleod insisted the re-structuring has led to "more officers in neighbourhoods but less officers in wards", with 11 neighbourhood duty officers starting their training in Mitcham on Monday.
Stories of open-air drug-dealing, "threatening" groups of young people drinking on street corners and public urination in the town centre were repeated themes among residents' concerns at the meeting.
A pregnant woman, who bought a house in Mitcham six months ago, said she is considering leaving after a man exposed himself to her in Mitcham town centre.
A grandmother who lives and works in Glebe Court said: "In all the years since I have grown up here we have always had police walking round the ward seeing where the hotspots are, but now the back door has been opened."
Chieft Supt Macleod said: "For anybody to be contemplating leaving the area is just very ,very sad." He tried to reassure residents by pointing to Merton's status as a "controlled drinking zone", allowing police to seize alcohol.
He also announced plans to use powers to ban serial offenders from the borough. But the atmosphere in the church hall only got more heated with one resident calling out: "we're not getting answers".
There are more than 10 betting shops in Mitcham, which residents claim have become hotspots for drug-dealing and anti-social behaviour.
A proliferation of barber shops in the town centre have also become illegal drinking houses during the day, one resident said.
Pointing to betting shop chiefs on the panel, the Glebe Court grandmother added: "My grandchildren are breathing in these drugs all outside your betting shops."
Ladbrookes retail security chief Barry Phillips, said: "Once we put people outside our shops that's a police issue."
Speaking after the meeting, he said after hearing residents' concerns Ladbrookes would pursue a "multi-agency" approach with police and the council to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour outside their branches.
Another resident, who has lived in Mitcham for 50 years, said: "It used to be a really lovely place to be.
"In the last few years it's our belief that the council has made Mitcham a disgusting place.
"We have been promised regeneration will start in the Autumn. But we were told this a year ago and the year before. My question is, how long will it be before these promises are carried out?"
Rediscover Mitcham is an £6.2m project aiming to revitalise the Fair Green and surrounding centre with bus routes and town centre improvement initiatives.
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