New police chief for Hackney promises to treat knife and drug suspects ‘as human beings’
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Police are to continue their tough stand on stop and search in the fight against drugs and knife crime on the streets, the Met’s new joint borough commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney has promised.
But Det Chief Supt Marcus Barnett, who took up his post on Monday, has also pledged to treat people "with dignity and respect as human beings" after reports that the Hackney Gazette put to him about heavy-handed tactics.
"I support stop and search as a powerful and essential policing tool," he tells the paper in his first media interview since his appointment.
"But it needs to be proportionate, effective and well-evidenced.
"We will stop and search anyone we suspect is carrying a weapon, where we know there's a strong likelihood of violence, if we believe they are carrying knives or guns. But only if we genuinely suspect someone is carrying a weapon."
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Yet the new commander has taken on a tough patch where police have come under fire for rough handling tactics in seemingly minor incidents.
A driver stopped on double yellow lines last month was wrestled to the ground by three officers, which was recorded by a passer-by that went viral on social media and has since been referred to the professional standards authorities.
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"I can't talk about what happened in much detail," Det Ch Supt Barnett insists. "It's difficult commenting on something that's being formally investigated."
But it hasn't been an isolated "rough handling" arrest over the years.
Rashan Charles, 20, was chased into Yours Locally, Dalston, in July 2017, before being tackled to the ground, where he choked on a packet he had swallowed containing caffeine and paracetamol. He died in hospital hours later, sparking an outcry from the community and widespread protests over allegations of racism and excessive force.
Police investigators passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service, which declined to prosecute the officers, while an inquest jury found the use of force had been "justified", but his family branded the findings a farce.
The same year, police put a 13-year-old Wapping girl in a headlock over a school playground argument. And a youth worker was put in a headlock by officers who thought he might be a suspect, then charged him with resisting arrest when he protested his innocence. Magistrates threw out the case in minutes.
"I'm happy talking to the community where there have been allegations of police being racist or heavy handed," Det Ch Supt Barnett promises.
"What I expect when I talk to my staff is working with the community. That is absolutely fundamental to me. Otherwise it means being disconnected, ineffective and dysfunctional - which is not professional."
He aims to make policing "personal" and explains: "I want to provide response that treats people with dignity and respect as human beings, as we would like to be treated ourselves, like my family would like to be treated."
But he also faces a foremost challenge of rampaging drug dealing on the streets and having to turn to local authority street cameras.
"We cannot do this alone," he admits. "Our relationship with the two local authorities is absolutely crucial for me to have access to their CCTV.
"I don't think it's being too cosy with local councils to share resources. We are politically neutral. Our business is about policing."
Tower Hamlets also pays for 39 extra Pcs, while talks have been under way with Hackney Council, which were started by his predecessor, over the same funding issue.
Det Ch Supt Barnett joined the Met in 1993 as a bobby on the beat in the busy West End patch around Soho and Mayfair, before joining the CID for the rest of his 26-year police career.
He took part in under-cover operations when the West End was Europe's largest crack market.
Tackling east London's street drugs menace offers nothing new to this well-seasoned operator. But his undercover experience has turned nowadays to electronic surveillance using council CCTV to catch street drug deals and alerting nearby patrol cars.
The father of two grown-up sons commutes into Liverpool Street each day from East Anglia before he gets his feet under the table in his second-floor command suite at Bethnal Green police station, but loves the long journey which gives him thinking time.
It's a tough call covering the entire command area from Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the south, to Clapton and Finsbury Park in the north.
Its geographical epicentre ironically is Boundary Street in Shoreditch, once the boundary between two quite separate Met Police divisions before Tower Hamlets and Hackney joined forces in October for policing "fit for the 21st century".