Hackney’s police commander Marcus Barnett has called on the borough’s community to “step up” and “take more responsibility” in helping his officers fight crime.
Det Ch Supt Barnett, who is also borough commander for Tower Hamlets, was speaking in a press briefing last week as his force works to balance multiple priorities.
It comes against a background of a 10 to 15 per cent increase in domestic abuse in the past few months and the approaching reopening of licensed premises – the beginning of a busy summer period during which Barnett predicts a rising crime rate.
The borough’s top cop, who has twice contracted the virus, also stressed the “incredible challenge” of policing Covid restrictions, while overseeing an “invigorated plan of work” on women’s safety in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, which Barnett said “churned [his] stomach”.
He said: “I know we have a job to do in the community, and I absolutely get that. I call for the community to step up in some respects to help us, being more of the eyes and ears for us, and to take some of that social responsibility with us too.
“Recently I’ve been out around a number of big incidents where we have been out executing warrants against people that have been involved in the trafficking of drugs, firearms, all sorts of high levels of criminality across Hackney. A massive investment by the Met and my team was to investigate and proactively go after those that are damaging communities, but this cannot be under the radar of everybody.
“This cannot not be under the nose of somebody, and people must know what is going on. I encourage people if you know anything about serious levels of criminality and violence that is going to stop people walking round the streets with firearms, knives, selling drugs, causing harm and misery to people in the community, please call the police or Crimestoppers.
“Tell us where it is happening and what you know, and we will deal with it. This cannot be just a police issue. I don’t think we call enough on the community to help us. There is a big part for everybody to play in this.”
Barnett was speaking as he attempts to build trust in police locally, with the force he took over two years ago struggling with a crisis in confidence as highlighted by local police scrutiny group Hackney Account.
Just over half of residents believe they can expect fair treatment from the police in the borough, according to the most recent data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.
While claiming to see “green shoots” of faith in the police appearing in recent months, the detective chief superintendent stated that there are “pockets of the community where there is a far deeper and longer-term area of mistrust and reticence about engaging with police”.
He pledged to continue to “improve, personalise and professionalise” policing, and revealed that work is going on internally to better train officers in how to approach and engage with Hackney’s diverse communities.
Barnett also said that forces in both boroughs are looking into their responses to stalking and harassment offences, which went up 15 per cent in 2020. This includes how they are reported, how seriously they are taken, levels of investment, and educational campaigns in schools and workplaces to ensure crime prevention.
Barnett recently received an open letter from Hackney CVS CEO Jake Ferguson which challenged him on stop and search policy and structural racism in the wake of Hackney Account member David Smith being searched for having his hands in or near his pockets.
Quizzed on Account’s criticism of the use of Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers for community policing, Barnett, who said he had personally pushed for the TSG’s frequent use in the borough, firmly stood by the group.
He said they receive an “unfair level of criticism” and pointed to their high level of training, the intelligence briefings they receive ahead of deployment in the borough, and high outcome rates in stop and search.
Barnett revealed that his force considers the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd to go to the heart of work on trust and confidence in the community.
He said he was watching the coverage “very carefully”, adding: “I do not believe we are institutionally racist, but do I think there is racism, racial bias and racial profiling – yes, I think there must be and is. We are an organisation of 45,000 people – it would be absolutely ridiculous to say there is not.
“As an organisation and locally at my level, if I find out there is anything that even suggests there is racism, untoward, unethical, unprofessional, illegal behaviour – it would get dealt with very quickly and robustly.
“We have a job to do like everybody else, and it becomes very tricky when you start talking about racial profiling, stop and search, defunding the police and other things.”
Stop and search, he added, is “here to stay”, describing it as a “legal, needed tool”.
He said: “Do it properly and professionally, it takes guns and knives off the streets and stops people killing and hurting each other, then I am absolutely for it, but we do it in an ethical, proportional and balanced way.
“We are not about profiling people and stopping them just because of the colour of their skin – that is absolutely not what we are about and I won’t stand for it.”
While asserting that the Met is “progressive in wanting to shift and change and improve” the way stop and search is carried out, Barnett underlined that the policy is carried out through officers engaging elements of their judgment, including “curiosity, their nose, what they see, something doesn’t look or feel right”.
An example he cited was a 12-year-old boy stopped with a zombie knife while in the company of an older individual who was caught selling drugs. Barnett said he considers children in this position to be victims rather than suspects.
He added: “This is why I am calling on people to help us. People must know. Kids out on the streets walking around with knives taken out of their houses, carrying drugs for other people – they are vulnerable, they are victims, they are being exploited and it is not right.
“That is why I am absolutely for using stop and search, but it must be proportionate, balanced and of course legal, but there is a role here to play for the community to help us in this.
“If you want us to be more measured and hold us to account, of course, I completely get it. But you have got to do your bit. There has got to be a citizen role here to take more responsibility.”