Report and pictures by Phoebe Robertson
London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Steven Greenhalgh, had battle on his hands last night as he and his panel fended off a heckling audience in Brixton. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) was at in town as part of it’s 15 date ‘roadshow’ around London.
The meeting, in Lambeth Town Hall, brought together MOPAC and some pretty angry members of the Brixton community. The panel kicked off with a 20 minute presentation in which the police listed some of their successes. They said violence with injury, robbery, theft from person and theft of motor vehicles had decreased since 2013. But crimes such as burglary, theft from motor vehicle and criminal damage had increased.
According to Mr Greenhalgh central Lambeth has 50% more crime than the rest of the borough. He said MOPAC’s commitment to increasing more officers in neighbourhoods would build public confidence in police, though the graph on the presentation showed a fall and then flatline of confidence.
By the time it was the audience’s turn feelings were running high and the questions came thick and fast: ‘Why did undercover police spend time finding information to smear the family of Steven Laurence with?’ ‘How do you account for low level crime and anti-social behaviour on estates and the reduction of officers in Lambeth’ ‘When does a group of friends become a gang?’ ‘What strategies are in place to improve police/community relations?’
As the chair, Councillor Lib Peck, struggled to calm the hecklers Steven Greenhalgh was repeatedly asked by race relations activist Lee Jasper and chair of Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group,Wesley Stephenson about what they saw as racism within the Metropolitan Police.
Both men took the microphone to demand action on what they described as disproportionate stop and searches against black youths. They also denounced the police policy of ‘hard stops’ and what they said were excessive prosecutions of black suspects.
Asked about deaths in police custody, Mark Simmonds said: “I’m not going to get into a debate about numbers…we are better at providing safer detention but there is more we can do.” That drew calls of “absolute nonsense” from the audience.
One member of the audience stood and asked if MOPAC was embarrassed for arranging a public meeting that was ‘patronising’ and ‘disgusting’. She said Mr Greenhalgh was looking ‘bored’ throughout the meeting and constantly to flicking through his papers. When Mr Greenhalgh responded by saying “This is getting tiresome” the audience hit back with boos and jeers
The Deputy Mayor clearly came to Brixton with a new mantra – that the priority at a time of budget cuts was ‘bobbies before buildings’. But however often he repeated it the facts that really struck home with the audience was the news that Lambeth now has only one police station open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That cop shop is in Brixton, the rest of the borough has to be satisfied with the new look contact points. Thats why it sounded to most of the audience as if the policy was really ‘buildings before bobbies’.
It seems that three weeks after the last meeting between police and Brixtoners, in the wake of the Mark Duggan affair, there is still a big credibility gap to be bridged.
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