Photograph: BBC iPlayer

Lee Jasper takes issue with the BBC’s new ‘fly on the wall’ documentary about the Metropolitan Police

Did you see the BBC One documentary ‘The Met’ on tell-lie-vison last night? It was meant to be a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary on the challenges of policing the capital city.

I watched it and from this first episode, there are five more to follow, its clear to me fom the outset, that this series is undoubtedly part of a media campaign to win back public trust and confidence, after what has been a hellish period for the Met Police over the last six or so years.

It’s principle starting point was that the police do a good job under difficult circumstances. On balance I think we’d all with agree. Having witnessed the enormous bravery of police officers, myself I can say hand on heart, there are undoubtedly more good people in the police service than bad.

The problem is an a hyper diverse city like London, the Met are still regarded as an all white institution that discriminates against black people. You can see that reflected in the stop and search figures in places like Lambeth, where despite the recent entreaties of the Home Secretary Thersea May who has challenged the Met to clean up its act, continue to see increases in the use of this abused power, from a jump off point that was already, historical incredibly high.

We saw the Met’s senior command team, a sea of white faces, trying to cope in the immediate aftermath of the inexplicable Mark Duggan inquest verdict. The focus was on the Chief Inspector of Haringey Victor Olisa, whose performance seemed at times a little wooden as he sought to respond to local angers and community concerns.

At one point he tells the camera that he’s faced worse racism from the people of Tottenham than he did in during a stint in Bexley, an area where the far right BNP had their headquarters. It was a silly comment to make, but gave a real insight into just how besieged and alone Olisa felt.

He neither, accepted nor understood the views of the community, but he did try and listen. He seemed to take the entire attack on the Met personally and at one point talks about why people are focusing on race suggesting this ‘entirely misses the point’.

Olisa, who I know quite well and is a decent chap, lost me at that point. The killing of an unarmed black man by the Met’s now discredited Operation Trident team, in broad daylight on the streets of London, given our tragic and painful history, is never going to be entirely divorced from the oppressive history of deaths in police custody or police brutality and neither should it be.

He made the classic mistake of taking the justified criticism of the community personally. Its a typical reaction, but wrong nevertheless, these are historical issues that will predate most officers and if you refract community criticism through your own lens you needlessly become both reactionary and defensive. He stood bemused and slightly choked, that the black community could actually believe that Mark Duggan was deliberately executed by the Met.

Thats the stone cold truth right there, and neither Olisa, the Commissioner, nor the media are willing to accept its reality and the implications. Like it or lump it, this is the predominant view and strongly held belief of the black community and it will not be in the least affected by slick promotional TV programmes. Whether one agrees with that view or not, the important thing is to recognise that’s the reality on the ground, accept it, deal with it.

Yes we know not all officers are like the worst, but here’s the thing, you see to the young black person stopped for the 20th time that week, it matters not, dear officer, that you’ve just come on duty and you’ve have not a racist bone in your body.

No on cares that you do your job professionally, when the last police encounter resulted in black youth spending 6 hours in a police cell for nothing more then ‘failing the attitude test’.

In an police force that denies its intuitionally racist, theres no such thing as a good cop.

And to all those to self declared, policing angels, these representatives of our better nature, those who claim to be the embodiment of professional policing and anti racist virtues, there is a huge credibility problem. You see as far as the black and communities concerned you never seem to be around when your colleagues are racially targeting black youth.

And truth is, if you are at the scene, you usually keep your mouths shut and ears closed. That makes you as bad as ‘them’.

Take the sheer scale of stop and search. To achieve such widespread wholesale disproportionality requires huge numbers of racist police officers, targeting and racially profile black youth. When was the last time you saw or heard these officers being reported or challenging their racist colleagues? Most are usually are making excuses for them, covering up for them, rather than challenging their obvious racism.

Its taken a ballsy Tory Home Secretary to  drag the police to the table police kicking and screaming where she literally battered them into submission, leaving them no potion but take the issue of racial profiling of black youth seriously. I repeat a Tory Home Secretary.

The biggest mistake, both the last Labour Government and the Met made in the noughties, was to abandoned all the recommendations, action plans, political priorities, enhanced community accountability, that came out of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

In doing so, it allowed the Met and other forces to return to their default setting of unchecked institutionally racism.

Even after they initially accepted this designation in 1999, with the publication of the McPherson Report , there was a strong cohort of officers who despised the label. They fought tooth and nail and convinced successive Labour Home Secretaries, Clark and Smith to close down all Lawrence policy and consultation forums.

As a result the virus of institutional racism has returned with a vengeance. Look at all the racial equality indicators over the last ten years, such as policing race complaints,  ethnic charging rates for crimes compared to whites. police bail objections, BME officer’s facings internal disciplinaries, recruitment rates, BME officer promotion, public confidence all of these indicators are flashing red. What these trends tell you is that racism in policing is getting worse, not bette r and thats not to mention the police spying amnd corruption enquiries into Stephen Lawrence and others.

What struck me about the programme, was the complete loss of organisational memory by the Met, of all the critical lessons learned after the death of Stephen Lawrence.

This one of the Mets biggest problems, it consistently fails to instutionalise good practice and the consequences are, that when good committed experienced police officers leave, good practice walks out the door behind them.

What was evident in last nights programme, was from the Commissioner right down to the PC’s, no one had a clue as to how to respond to black community concerns.

They wheeled in community advisors asking them what to do, they agonised around their white senior management tables, they organised an all white panel to consult with the people of Brixton. They were utterly bereft of ideas as demonstrated by the Commissioner speaking on the virtually all white London Broadcasting Caucasian radio station, LBC this morning. He said ‘ My challenge to our critics is come and tell us what to do.”

Dear Commissioner, the Mets has had mountains of advice, acres of trees have been felled, millions of hours consumed with community members telling you their views, stacks of reports have been written, a plethora of books have been written on the subject, all outlining what needs to be done. Im pretty sure there is a warehouse somewhere the size of a couple of aircraft hangar’s chokka with Met diversity reports.

I doubt this programme will have convinced to change their views and may have simply reinforced existing prejudices. Im sure there is better to come showing the policing at its best, but for black Londoners the reality is the quality of the policing you receive, as either a victim or a suspect, is dictated by the colour of your skin

The Met has trashed a solid anti racist policing policy developed over many years, infused with great pain, blood and sacrifice. This has now been replaced with a shiny new and improved media and PR strategy.

The Met abolished its Diversity Directorate, closed down all McPherson related policy and consultation forums then when the community complains about an increase in police racism and brutality, its says ‘ come and join us and tell us what it do’

Really? Commissioner you must think we came over yesterday on the banana boat…err wait a minute….

Watch the BBC One documentary: The Met on iPlayer

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