By Catriona Robertson
If you like Lambeth in the raw, try Community Police Consultative Group meetings.
They may be stylised, formal even, but there’s no other place I know where ordinary people speak out in public about the things that matter – and are listened to.
Tuesday evening at Brixton’s Karibu Centre saw the debut of our new borough commander, chief superintendent Matt Bell. His predecessor, Nick Ephgrave, is a hard act to follow. A decent and conscientious man, he received a standing ovation at December’s farewell CPCG. He fought hard against being promoted out of Lambeth before his three-year stint was up.
The packed Karibu gave Matt Bell a sense of what Lambeth longs for. He was on his feet to listen to contributions from the floor and responded to each one. Clarence Thompson, CPCG Chair, presided.
Questions ranged from the policing of the Olympics to an impassioned plea for police to stop criminalising black and mixed heritage youth. One mother said her (black) son was stopped and searched 26 times in six months, while another attendee requested that officers at Brixton Police Station refrain from making snide remarks about people of colour and people of faith. Bell was also asked why children with learning and other disabilities are being bullied on public transport on their way to school and to give his support to a “proper” youth service in Lambeth.
The borough commander said that he didn’t want us to think he didn’t want to hear these things. He emphasised that any police officer found behaving badly would be dealt with in the severest fashion possible. He wants his officers to feel proud to be part of Lambeth police. He said he was a big fan of voluntary, community and faith groups. Bell promised to invite someone next time to give us a run-down on the Olympics.
Third sector groups were also invited to contribute to a Serious Violent Crime Strategy which is currently being developed by Lambeth police.
It wasn’t all positive news from Matt Bell though. We heard that funding for Young and Safe had been halved.
CPCG’s annual grant will be reduced to £35k. Even with a committed bunch of volunteers, it will be difficult to employ someone to run stop and search monitoring groups and continue to ensure Lambeth people ‘have their shout’.
Borough commanders in Lambeth are able to hear from anyone who feels strongly about crime, policing and safety thanks to CPCG.
But the scale of discontent, the lack of hope, the grief and anger as a result of disrespectful encounters with the police (Stop and Search is commonly the culprit) is often underestimated. These negative encounters are having a massive impact on so many young people – of Caribbean heritage in particular – day by day and generation by generation.
What needs to happen for this situation to improve beyond our dreams?
Lambeth Community-Police Consultative Group meetings take place each month, usually on the first Tuesday. www.lambethcpcg.org.uk
Catriona Robertson is the author of ‘Whose Shout’ report, published in June 2010