by John Lea
At the beginning of September, London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police announced a new policing structure for London which, according to the Mayor, could take another 12p out of your council tax. The plan merges Special Branch into a new Counter-Terrorism unit but also brings on-stream for the whole of London the new Safer Neighbourhood scheme which the police have been piloting in some areas of Hackney. The scheme will create dedicated local policing teams of three police and three community support officers in every ward in London.
To discuss some of the implications of all this I went down to Stoke Newington police station to talk to Superintendent Leroy Logan who, after a year in charge of operations, will take charge of these new Safer Neighbourhood schemes.
Logan is a tall, athletic guy with a great enthusiasm for policing and a great enthusiasm for Hackney. He detects a 'renaissance' in the borough despite its history of neglect. He sees the 2012 Olympic bid as a new opportunity to 'show how Hackney is great'. Why such enthusiasm? Part of the answer is that Logan, unlike many police officers, is a local and keen to show it. He's got 'Hackney in the blood'. He grew up in Islington during the 1950s, went to Highbury Grove, did his A levels at Dalston Tech and then a degree, and after a few years in medical research received 'the calling' to join the police. He was a sergeant in Hackney during the 1980s.
This 'calling' came despite the fact that, as a young black man, he witnessed his father badly assaulted by police and himself fell foul of the notorious 'sus' laws in force at the time. He recounts his past with an almost matter-of-fact casualness. But, in fact, as one of the leading black officers in the Met and as chair of the National Black Police Association he has been in the forefront of campaigns within the police for equal opportunities and diversity.
But on some issues he is no liberal. I asked him what he thought of Brian Paddick's controversial strategy, when Commander in Lambeth, of telling his officers to shift focus away from cannabis use and to focus on more harmful hard drugs. Logan was not impressed. He reckoned that cannabis in use today was boosted with derivatives to enhance its potency and therefore as strong as a lot of 'class A' drugs. It is, in his opinion, one of the 'steps up the ladder' from recreational to habitual use.
But neither does he think hard policing is the simple answer. On the contrary, the drugs problem has been around a long time and the real need is to get to grips with the problem of why people need drugs in the first place and to give them some alternative routes to self-esteem.
He says that when he was young it was sport that kept him away from drugs. But these days you're fighting against the media and music.
So policing can only make a difference if other more basic changes are underway. Hardly surprising, then, that he is enthusiastic about the Safer Neighbourhood scheme and partnership between police, local council and local communities. He firmly rejects as outdated the 'the cops can do it on their own' approach. We can only do it together, he says.
There is a very practical core to this: if you're going to solve crime you need information. The community has that information and they're not going to give it to you if they don't trust you and get respect from you. So the police have to engage in 'proper bridge building' and 'proper partnerships' to 'earn the trust and confidence of the public' and take steps to turn around a lot of negative perceptions especially among young people.
He definitely sees the Safer Neighbourhood schemes as the core of Sir Ian Blair's new policing plan. Specialist squads have a role but it's in the community where you are going to pick up the intelligence and information even about organised crime networks and terrorist cells. So we need to resource local neighbourhood policing in a way that hasn't happened before.
Is this a recipe for a regime of neighbourhood spies and 'coppers' narks?' Logan is convinced that if you explain carefully to people why you want to do something and take on board their opinions then you can reach a compromise. This belief was also evident in his attitude to the controversial practice of 'stop and search'. I put it to him that, for a generation, from the Scarman Report (into the Brixton riots) at the beginning of the 1980s to the Macpherson Report (into police handling of the murder of Steven Lawrence) in the mid-1990s, the most important single grievance by black youth against the police was the apparent stereotyping of young men by police stop and search operations.
Logan was undeterred. Police need to 'communicate widely' why
stop and search is necessary. He agreed it might not detect many
crimes but he sees its most important role as a deterrent to criminals
walking the streets with guns and knives if they know there is
a likelihood they will be stopped by police. How, then, to get
away from the ethnic stereotyping for which stop and search is
notorious? His answer was twofold. First, we need more information
and sources of intelligence to 'make sure we're stopping the right
sort of people'. Second, the police have got to carry out stop
and search with 'respect and dignity'. He quickly added that 'If
I find officers need development and awareness about how they
carry out those operations then I will bring in those interventions.
I have a duty of care to make sure my officers are carrying out
their powers without fear or favour.'
This brought us, finally, to the issues of diversity and equal opportunities within the police. As chair of the National Black Police Association, Leroy Logan is on record as advocating various measures to boost the recruitment and retention of non-white
officers and civilian police staff. He was one of the authors of the Black Police Association's evidence to the Morris Inquiry (April 2004) into ethnic recruitment in the police. The phrase that stood out in that document was 'You cannot fully serve the needs of a diverse community if you cannot fully serve the needs of your diverse workforce'.
This is particularly important in areas like Hackney and Stoke Newington. We need, he puts it, the police service to 'look like the community we serve'. He is encouraged that 10 percent of police officers, over 50 percent of community safety officers and over 30 percent of civilian police staff under his command are from black and ethnic minority groups.
Perhaps referring obliquely to his campaigning role within the police, he added that 'we've made progress and "challenged" colleagues because there is an "inextricable link" between staff
confidence and community perceptions. If you treat people right they will acknowledge you. Diversity brings added value to the community and to our ability to serve them.'
Let's hope he's right.
John Lea is a Professor of Criminology and a regular contributor to N16 Magazine.