Man shot over rent arrears in Lambeth
On Friday the 21st August in Lambeth, South Clapham London, the Metropolitan Police shot a 34-year-old black man. It's always a concern to local communities when the police discharge their weapons and this is incident is no exception. The man in question is currently making good progress in hospital, however there a number of issues that give rise to a range of community concerns, that I believe require further explanation.
It's not every day a citizen gets shot in his home and the word on the streets is a ' man was shot over rent arrears' and whilst clearly not true such community perceptions need to be urgently addressed.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), an organisation that is short on community credibility given its past failures, is now currently investigating what actually happened.
What we do know was that the man had been previously evicted from the property and had some time later and moved back in.
His landlord, Metropolitan Housing Association then dispatched two Housing Officers accompanied by two Police officers in a pre-planned eviction.
The Met then say that after entering the property, a man with what appeared to be a gun confronted them, The officers, it is then claimed withdrew and a lengthy stand-off ensued lasting all day. The man was by shot by a Police sniper later that afternoon and luckily he survived.
Had this man died, I believe we would be looking at a very different situation today and I tell you why.
But first, given we have spent years discussing the acute failure of communications between the Police, the IPCC and the Tottenham community in the aftermath of the killing of Mark Duggan, it's is a useful exercise to examine what happened on this occasion.
First some background context. The London Mayor Boris Johnson and Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe recently introduced Police bodycams videos, with a view to ensuring that Black communities can be provided independent film footage of contentious policing incidents.
This is an attempt to ensure the integrity, professionalism and proportionality of policing actions after widespread and persistent allegations of racism and police brutality.
The intent was to film stop and search encounters, police shootings, claims of police brutality so as to reassure disbelieving and distrustful communities.
The Met bought 30,000 bodycams in an effort to be 'the most transparent police in the world'.
The Commissioner also announced that, given the appalling cover up by Lambeth Police in the horrific treatment of Sean RIgg, they would now introduce video in police transit vans.
This was a result of Lambeth officers caught lying about the care they provided Sean Rigg, a man in acute distress and to whom they subjected 'unsuitable' force according to the Inquiry verdict into his untimely death.
In short, these bodycams videos were introduced as a means of responding to London's black community's crisis of confidence in the Met.
There were around 13 bodycams worn by police officers at the scene of this latest shooting all of which remain in police possession but accessible to the IPCC.
Looking at how Lambeth Police and the Met engaged with the local community on this issue is illustrative and given the man in question did not die, this incident a unique opportunity to assess the extent to which the lessons of Duggan have been learned.
This potentially tragic, case allows us to see what happen and to what extent the Met adhered to the agreed protocols and agreement developed between angry and concerned communities and the Police over many years.
In Lambeth we developed a Critical Incident framework that set out to the police what the community expects to happen in the direct aftermath of any critical incident.
A clear policy framework that's sets out policy and identifies key community figures that can act as trusted (by the community not the Police) independent observers in any sensitive policing operations. These individuals or organisations act as critical friends in assessing police response and provide community mediation between Police and communities where necessary.
In April last year Boris Johnson abolished London's Police Consultative Groups (CPCG's) established by Lord Scarman in the immediate aftermath of the Brixton Uprising of 1981.
Lord Scarman' report identified the distinct lack of trust with which communities viewed the Met. He identified racism and bigotry among Police officers and he recommended the establishment of independent CPCG's to meet regularly with local communities and provide a forum for the airing of tensions and drive improvements in police community relations.
Elections were held every year and an independent membership elected the CPCG officers. Once a month the local community could come and question their local Commander or local Council leader or Chief Executive on any aspect of local policing.
Lambeth CPCG has hosted a succession of Commissioners of Police and Home Secretaries at our monthly meetings. This all stopped under Boris Johnson.
I had the pleasure of being one the longest serving chairs of Lambeth CPCG and remain a member to this day.
We are one of the leading CPCGS in the England and over the last 30 years and have probably highlighted more police racism, injustice, and corruption and police failures than any other such group in the country.
However the effect of Johnson's decision is that local protocols built up over years, invested with the pain and tragedy of our fraught and often tragic relationship with the Met have simply been discarded.
Boris Johnson, in what will be seen to be a catastrophic mistake of monumental proportions, abolished these statutory defined, democratically elected groups.
He replaced these local accountable community representatives and replaced them with unelected Safer Neighbourhood Boards. These are made up of local councillors (who were barred from standing for CPCG elections) and a selection of hand-picked people chosen by the Borough Commander, the Leader of Lambeth Council Liz Peck and of course Boris Johnson.
The result has been the total failure of the Lambeth Police communications with the CPCG and the abandonment of Critical Incident framework that has worked so well in over many years in preventing serious disorder and forging new operational policing practice.
Lambeth CPCG, the only one in London to do so, has rejected the idea of closing down and continues to exist with plans for the future. We intend to continue to hold the Met and the Mayor to account on an independent basis.
On this particular occasion as the stand-off played out in Lambeth, no one in the community was contacted to either advise or mediate. Lambeth Police claimed they contacted the Chair of the CPCG but he has no record of the call, no emails or texts were sent, no other member of the CPCG contacted.
This resulted in a major policing operation that had no community oversight or advice. On this occasion the man in question survived but can you imagine the situation had he died? This is why this issue is so important. It provides an opportunity to test the new system imposed by Boris Johnson in Lambeth.
The truth is that system is failing just in the same way it did in Tottenham in 2011. The key questions we are asking
- Why is the victim name being withheld?
- Was there an inadequate and informed risk assessment done prior to attending the property?
- Why were no community observers invited to attend the incident?
- Was shooting of the man really the only available option to the Met?
- Why was LCPCG not contacted to ascertain whether the local community knew the man or his family?
- Will the IPCC establish a community reference group to provide community oversight of their investigation?
Lambeth CPGS members have defused armed stand-off situations in the past where the community has known the suspect. I have personally done so on many occasions. Why was community mediation not considered an option?
Given the Met have bodycams video evidence, why cannot this be released to reassure communities that the police acted in a proportional and professional manner?
In relation to bodycams I see no point of filming critical incidents, if that film cannot then be shown to communities to provide them with the reassurance that was the basis of their introduction.
In the US we have seen how quickly the US Police have released videos in relation to a stream of black deaths in police custody. When an incident occurs there is a press conference, video is shown and the truth is known.
If in London, the Police and the IPCC can only see such video evidence then it makes a mockery of the whole rationale of introducing them in the first place.
We need a clear policy framework that allows the public release of these police videos of critical incidents.
This case illustrates the current parlous and critical state of Met Police Black community relations in Lambeth and across the city. The responsibility for that lies with the Mayor and the Commissioner in equal measure.
London needs to urgently restore its CPCG's and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We intend to make this an election issue in the forthcoming Mayoral elections in 2016. We hope you will support us.
There will be a public meeting to hear from both the Met and IPCC on Thursday August 27th 6.30pm Community Resource Centre Kings Avenue SW4.