LibLink | Brian Paddick: Police must show there is no bias against black people

Former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metroplolitan police, and current contender to become the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London, Brian Paddick has written for The Independent on the need for our law-enforcers to re-earn the trust of the capital’s balck community. Recounting his own experiences of policing London on the front-line over the decades, Brian writes:

I was a sergeant on the streets during the 1981 Brixton riots. Together with 10 officers hiding behind our plastic shields, we became the focus for community hatred, pelted with bricks and broken paving slabs. The police and the community tried to rebuild some kind of relationship – it took a long time. Twenty years later I became the police commander there. After 15 months, when I was moved out of Brixton, there were protests – it had been quite a turnaround from 1981. Do the people of Tottenham have to wait 20 years for the weekend’s scars to heal?

Not if the police take action now to rebuild the burning bridges. In the aftermath of the Brixton riots, as we patrolled Railton Road and chased suspected criminals into the illegal gambling dens, those suspected of mugging were thrown back out into our arms, but the older black men guarding the doors would protect those we thought might have cannabis on them. They thought we were wasting our time policing “weed”. Two decades later, it was clear from discussions with local community leaders that it was crack cocaine and heroin that were ruining young people’s lives at that time, not cannabis, and that is what that community wanted its police to concentrate on.

The motivation for getting my officers to concentrate on hard drugs rather than cannabis was about showing that I was their police chief who was listening to them and that I was prepared to act on what they told me.

You can read Brian Paddick’s article in full here. And you can acth up with his recent article for Lib Dem Voice — Lessons from the Tottenham riots — here.

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  • This article veers close to saying that communities should decide what laws should and shouldn’t be enforced. Indeed at one point it suggests that those involved in criminal activities (probably organised and gang related) were telling the police which laws to enforce (as well as possibly who to enforce them against)

    That poses some rather worrying questions – like just who is “the community” and who are these community leaders. Certainly there are some community leaders who are genuine and honest – but equally there are some whose community leadership is more about preserving their own position and imposing there own – often highly conservative – values on their community.

    Would we want the police turning a blind eye to forced marriages, female circumcision or electoral fraud because community leaders told the police these were not the major issues which concerned particular communities. Obviously not. So isn’t the situation really that the police should listen to the communities they are policing – but only in as far as they agree with them?

  • @Hywel
    Agreed, and a nice summary of what’s wrong with the proposed ‘elected police chiefs’

  • Keith Browning 10th Aug '11 - 7:41pm

    I have lived in England for 60 years and never had a ‘community leader’. What does it mean, and why are they allowed. We are either all equal or we are not.

    No other country in the world would accept the term ‘community leader’.

  • @Keith

    How about your MP, Councillor, Vicar, Shop Steward, Chair of Chamber of Commerce, chair of the local NFU, etc, etc.

    All have a community leadership role but you might get different answers about things depending on who you ask.

  • Keith Browning 10th Aug '11 - 8:09pm

    Yes – all of the above but they are open to everyone in the population.

    We seem to be giving certain groups some extra leeway, which is half the problem. You try to do this in any of the other 200 plus countries of the IOC/UN and you would have a revolution by the national population.

    No political correctness – we have laws and everyone gets treated the same. I think thats a very Liberal attitude – fairness and equality.

  • Daniel Henry 10th Aug '11 - 9:17pm

    @ Hywel
    ” This article veers close to saying that communities should decide what laws should and shouldn’t be enforced. Indeed at one point it suggests that those involved in criminal activities (probably organised and gang related) were telling the police which laws to enforce (as well as possibly who to enforce them against)”

    I don’t think that Brian is saying that’s ideal, it’s more that he’s pointing out that if you want to restore law and order in societies where the police is strongly distrusted or even hated, (like Brixton was) you need to be pragmatic and make some compromises in order to make progress.

    I think that even Theresa May said that policing is by consent and will be impossible if the majority of the community are against you. By building relations they managed to have gambling den bouncers assisting police with muggers and then later the community came to recognise the problems caused by hard drugs so became more cooperative with that too.

    While it’s more ideal to enforce the same law everywhere, in practice, perhaps it’s not that simple.

  • @Daniel

    I am a great admirer of Brian’s record in Brixton (see other London Mayoralty threads for comments). It’s also important that the police are sufficiently engaged with communities to understand what the particular problems are in an area.

    However I think there is a line which cannot be crossed if a community (or more accurately a section of it) decides that they don’t want the police to investigate certain crimes. The Brixton experiment basically dealt with cannabis possession in a lower-key way to focus on other aspects (so didn’t involve ignoring an offence). And it is only really applicable to cannabis which is something where the harm (if any)* is arguably* only caused to the individual consuming it. I very much doubt that there are any other offences where similar thinking could apply.

    (*that debate isn’t really relevant to this point.)

  • @Keith

    So your claim you never had a community leader is false then isn’t it?

    “Yes – all of the above but they are open to everyone in the population.”

    The chair of my local NFU doesn’t speak for me. Nor does the vicar/priest of either of my nearby churches. I suspect they would be fairly surprised if it was suggested they did. But I suspect the police are in fairly regular contact with them to keep up their understanding of the issues affecting the area.

  • Daniel Henry 10th Aug '11 - 9:49pm

    I agree there’s some lines we don’t want to cross (especially with fine of the examples you listed in your previous post) but there might be an argument for picking our battles in offer to make long term progress.

    I think when things are so dire that the majority of the community are up against you then perhaps some compromises are necessary in the short run. I don’t think that’s the case with these riots though. I think better communication and better community involvement would build the necessary relations here.

  • Simon McGrath 10th Aug '11 - 9:54pm

    “The motivation for getting my officers to concentrate on hard drugs rather than cannabis was about showing that I was their police chief who was listening to them and that I was prepared to act on what they told me”

    Not much point in having a General Election really if local,unaccountable, policemen are going to decide which laws to enforce

  • The Wikipedia article on Peelian Principles is actually worth reading in the wake of the riots. From reading them its clear, all be it in hindsight, that something of this scale was bound to happen since several of these principles have been violated particularly in the communities which the majority of the rioters are from.

    However I don’t think it’s sensible to begin ignoring laws passed by parliament simply because a neighbourhood with a high number of criminals doesn’t like them. Tacitly letting bouncers not give up petty lawbreakers in return for handing over hardened criminals is very different to changing the way the law is policed following community meetings. In the former the police are still doing their job, deciding on a case by case basis whether to pursue suspects, its the public failing to fulfil all their obligations in upholding the law, but in the latter the police have abandoned their job and adopted one of the functions of parliament.

  • Keith Browning 11th Aug '11 - 9:23am

    We only have to look at Brazil to see the consequences and the actions needed to be taken to rectify the problem. The favelas of Rio have been no-go areas for the authorities for a long time, but because of the Olympics they are trying to ‘clean them out’. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers involved and many dead. Doesn’t make the UK news but then we are a little insular.

    That is where you end up with the approach of consenual policing by a neighbourhood that is intent on criminality. This will be a growing problem as populations continue to rise. Integration or segregation are the only two options available, but then we end up with the ‘rotton apple’ theory. I’m not sure what the answer is for the country but the people themselves know what to do.

    The decent people create their own safe havens, Oxfordshire is one, or they decide to protect themselves where they are i.e.the vigilante groups that appeared very quickly when the decent people realised the police were ineffective, is another.

    Most of our politicians live in the ‘safe havens’ so they dont realise the problems.

    I spent ten years as a field training manager, working across the southern half of the country, including Birmingham. We had no go areas where we wouldn’t send our representatives (Bristol centre, parts of Brent) and there were other areas where I only felt safe because our representative was one a member of the local ethnic community.

    This is the start of an ‘open eyes’ period when the ‘social engineering’ of the 1980s onwards will need to be reassessed. The decent people are no longer willing to accept ‘political correctness’. This would seem to be a massive opportunity for the Lib Dems to grab the initiative because I see a big match between Liberal values and the aspirations of decent people in all sections of the land. Simon Hughes voices those views very well.

    Lib Dems – Take the initiative!

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