Hackney police commander: Communication is key to address tensions in community
- Credit: Metropolitan police
Hackney’s Basic Unit (BCU) Commander hopes increased communication will help reduce tensions heightened by recent protests condemning police brutality and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Det Ch Supt Marcus Barnett says he understands why tensions are running high but thinks there are misunderstandings about the way policing works in the UK and significant improvements he has seen in his 27 years on the job could be better explained to the public.
Cmdr Barnett shared his thoughts on the “tragic” events in the United States with the killing of George Floyd: “It’s horrific and is not something that resonates with me as a policing professional. We police by consent in this country.
“It brings into sharp focus all of the issues that have gone before us whereby there have been racial inequalities and tensions within the community because of actions and tragic murders and such that have taken place.”
He says there is still work to do and bridges to repair.
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According to government figures between April 2018 and March 2019 there were four stop and searches for every 1,000 white people compared with 38 for every 1,000 black people and almost half of all stop and searches took place in the Metropolitan Police force area.
The Home Office’s equality impact assessment published in 2019 reported black men as far more likely than white men to be subject to section 60 searches.
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“I am sorry that there is hurt and division in the community and that there have been issues in the past which have pulled communities and police apart whereas we should have been pulling together,” Cmdr Barnett said.
However, he thinks section 60 dispersal orders and stop and search powers are necessary tactics to keep residents safe but police need to make sure they explain why and how such measures are used.
Section 60 orders are “heavily legislated”, he said, and there are “very strict rules” around how they are implemented and authorised including how long they can last for.
“These things are not done lightly and you have to justify why you’re doing it, the geographical location you are doing it in and what you’re going to achieve,” Cmdr Barnett stated.
In response to the potential for unconscious racial bias in the police force, the commander said: “We are absolutely aware and I would be wrong to say racial bias does not play a part somewhere by somebody at some time in the Metropolitan Police because we are people looking after people and sometimes we get things wrong or misjudge something.
“I can’t account for everybody’s actions every minute of the day but by and large I think my staff and this organisation treats people with a huge amount of dignity and respect and we go where the intelligence is.”
The commander says Covid-19 has brought about a “definite reduction in crime” but the lockdown’s impact, with less people on the streets and no night-time economy, was predicted.
“Some of our open spaces have become a night-time economy and some of our parks. We have seen big increases in anti-social behaviour – 89 per cent in Hackney – and big chunks of that are to do with Covid-19 and people not sticking to the rules around isolation,” he added.
Cmdr Barnett expects a rise as lockdown eases, he says lower crime rates today must also be attributed to long-term factors including police efforts to work more closely with offenders, local authorities and young communities through youth engagement teams and independent advisory groups.
“Part of that has been our engagement around offenders involved in knife crime in the past on maybe say more than three occasions,” Cmdr Barnett said. “We have visited them and written to them offering people an opportunity to divert away from a life of crime.
“Lots of things are going on to stop the escalation and it’s not just about the purist enforcement part [of policing].”
The commander also commented on the protests and encouraged people to demonstrate peacefully but in a socially distanced way to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus.
“I understand why Black Lives Matter, the protest group, how it has picked up pace and the sentiment behind it and what its seeking to achieve. That’s why I am in the police quite frankly. I joined because I wanted, in my own little way, to make the world a better place and that includes removing racism, hate crime, inequality and all those things which frankly just divide communities. So yes, lets do whatever we can to build those bridges and to make it a better place.”