OBV Profile: David Michael

Michael, a former long serving police officer, spent 30 years in the Metropolitan Police service, and as with all officers he was politically restricted from joining any political party at the time. Today he is an active Labour Party member in Lewisham.

Since his retirement from the police force in 2002, Michael, 53, has become very politically active. Joining the Labour Party in 2004 he is now an ethnic minority officer both on the executive committee and the general committee in Lewisham, on top of that he is the chair of his branch in Catford South.

Michael also spends much of his time doing community, voluntary and charitable work. He is chair of the Lewisham Community Police Consultative Group, and is an appointed advisor for the Mayor of Lewisham and Lewisham Council on Community Cohesion and Community Relations.

Describing why he chose to follow a political path Michael says: “I chose to get involved in politics for one of the same reasons why I joined the police service - because I want to encourage and see more members of the community engaged and aware of civic engagement, and for them to have a greater understanding of what civic engagement is and how it impacts on families and community cohesion.”

He has received numerous accolades for the work he has done. He is a scholarship patron at the University of Westminster where he also received an honorary doctorate for his services to the police and community.

Michael’s roots lie in Dominica where he was born. He left the island just as he had finished his primary school education to move to Bedfordshire in England.

Following his school education in Luton, he was spurred on to be a police officer when he joined the Metropolitan Police Cadets in 1971 as a teenager. Then on his 19th birthday he formally joined the police service and began his initial training at Hendon Training School.

Once he had completed his training for his first posting he was assigned to the police service in Lewisham and as he points out he has “adopted the borough ever since”. He became the borough’s only Black police officer out of 200 staff.

Throughout his career he took on many roles including being a Duty Inspector, Detective Sergeant and Detective Constable. He was posted as a DC while in Notting Hill where he was involved in the policing of the Notting Hill Carnival in the late 1970s to early 1980s.

He also went on to work for Scotland Yard in a number of postings, one included the opportunity to work with agencies in the United States, which was sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. By the time of his retirement he had achieved the rank of Detective Chief Inspector but served most of his time as a Sergeant, Detective Sergeant, Uniform Inspector, Detective Inspector for the bulk of his career in Lewisham.

In 1995 at a Race for Justice Conference he was one of the first serving police officers to make a leading statement that racism was endemic in the Metropolitan Police.

Michael says: “I joined the police service four years before the 1976 Race Relations Act in which the government outlawed racial discrimination and racial harassment in the workplace. I was working in an inherently racist environment where the crudest racist language was the norm.”

Explaining how he dealt with that he believes that he had the kind of personality that enabled him to deal with adversities. Michael says that he had to ensure that his knowledge of the law and police regulations was excellent, “if you are in a position of management, leadership and supervision where people will want to challenge your authority I found it good to be at the top of my game”, Michael says.

In 1992 the Metropolitan Police set up its first equal opportunities committee but he says it failed to meet the demands of those it aimed to support. He says that despite all the debate and dialogue there was not one single Black person on the committee.

From that point he and other officers like Paul Wilson joined together to form the BPA. He explains: “The main reason for launching the Black Police Association was obviously because the public and police officers were subjected to racism. Members of the public had talked about being on the receiving end of racism but no one in authority took it seriously. It had become patently obvious that our issues and concerns were not being listened to. It became clear to us who set up the association that we had to help ourselves.”

Reflecting on his career, Michael, who completed a Law degree as a mature student, says that despite his challenges he has had a fruitful policing career as a detective and has had the opportunity to nurture many other officers who have also gone on to be successful in their own right.

Michael hopes to continue working with the community and says that at the moment he would be far more interested in serving the community as a local councillor.

He says: “In Lewisham I think it would be interesting to ask them where I would be most effective to them, that would be more my guidance. To serve the community where they would want you most is one of the best accolades.”