Part 2b – Police and Community Relations (Scarman Report cont)

I have written two Blogs so far on the relationship between the Police and the Community. I started with the Brixton Riots of 1981 and what happened. This can be viewed by clicking this link 

I continued with examining the report into the cause of the riots that had been written by Lord Scarman. This is a very comprehensive report and to be honest at the time I did not know how big a task it was going to be. For that reason I will be releasing two further Blogs on the Scarman Report that will cover Lord Scarman’s Conclusions and Recommendations to prevent further disorder.

In my last Blog I looked at the problems that Lord Scarman had uncovered and this Blog is a continuation of that. Part 2a on the same subject can be found here

The section of the Scarman Report that i am now going to cover concerns the faults of the Police and the problems that the Police faced.

Police Faults

Lord Scarman as a result of evidence heard discovered the following:

  • The hostility within the community was caused by a loss of confidence in the police by significant sections of the community.
  • There were several complaints made against the police, many of which were not acted upon or investigated. There were a number of MP’s who believed that many complaints against the police could be justified.
  • The attitude towards police provided the “tinder ready to blaze into violence” indicating that the signs were there.
  • Also uncovered was was a loss of confidence and poor attitude gave rise to a serious breakdown in relations between the police and the community – I will be covering this a little more shortly.
  • Police harassment did occur and enabled a myth of police brutality and racism to develop.

The Police had many faults and there is no hiding from that fact. The Police however also had some big problems that they needed to overcome which will be covered shortly. We have already heard some of the causes into the riots such as housing and high unemployment and although these issues are outside of police responsibility you will see that the police did fail to adapt their policing approach to the community that they served.

The Policing Problem

  • In 1980 the amount of crimes recorded in the Lambeth Borough was 30,805. The Brixton Division was responsible for 10,626 of those crimes.
  • Between 1976 and 1980 Brixton accounted for 35% of all crimes on the Borough, but 49% of all Robbery and Violent Theft offences.
  • The police recognised that there was a problem and that they needed a solution to a growing crime trend. Robbery and violent crime was on the increase and this can probably be related to high unemployment and people with no or little money.
  • A disproportionate amount of crime was committed by black people. – Remember the video on my first Blog where the now retired Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick (a Sergeant at the time) spoke of the criminality associated with being black?
  • In 1979 the then Commander of the area Commander Adams had launched a very successful community project on the Stockwell Park Estate that did reduce crime and build links. This project however did not last as hostility and suspicion existed between the public and the police. Later in 1979 circumstance outside of Commander Adams control occurred and this helped to push the community further away.
  • Commander Adams was worried about the increase in crime in Brixton and in 1980 he was successful in a bid to obtain more staff from neighbouring areas. This contributed to an increase of police on the streets which caused further tension.

  • Due to increasing crime Commander Adams organised a series of operations on the streets of Brixton by utilising the Special Patrol Group. During these operations crime would reduce but would soon increase again when the operations ended.
  • These policing operations caused further hostility on the streets and black people felt that they were being “hunted” irrespective of their guilt or innocence.
  • The operations turned older members of the community against the police as they heard stories from younger members of the community. These stories also helped in the breakdown of formal agreements between the police and community leaders.
  • Commander Adams met with local community leaders to discuss a new two way open approach between the police and the community. A Special Patrol Group operation had been planned for a few days time after this meeting however Commander Adams did not tell the community leaders about it due to fears that telling them would reduce its effectiveness. When the operation started the community leaders were far from happy and made the community leaders not trust the police.
  • On the 12th of February 1979 three members of staff from community liaison team were arrested on suspicion of assaulting undercover police. This action lead to an emergency meeting by the Executive Committee of the CCRL which resulted in them withdrawing from the Liaison Committee with the Police. They also withdrew their open offer of the Community Liason Police officers attending their meetings.
  • What followed after this meeting was a series of unofficial community meetings with the police and those community members who had disagreed with the withdrawal action.

  • In January 1981 the Working Party released a report into the relations between the Police and the Community. This report had been commissioned by the Council and the Met refused to engage in it as they suspected that the report would not be impartial. As it turned out the report was highly critical of the Police and contained quotes such as, “Police are army of occupation” and that SPG ops were “Attack by the SPG on the people of Lambeth”.
  • The report said that the Police would harass working class people and black people in particular.
  • It also criticised stop and search and said that it was a misuse of the law.
  • Other areas such as community projects operated by the police were criticised.
  • Lord Scarman was in no doubt that report worsened the relationship between the police and the community.
  • On the 1st of April 1981 the new Divisional Commander (five months into the job) had a meeting with community leaders to discuss the relaunch of the Liasion Committee however he received a letter agreeing to the relaunch that arrived four days AFTER the disorder had occurred.

Swamp 81 – The Build Up

  • Swamp 81 ran between the 6th and 12th of April 1981.
  • In the immediate days before the operation began a number of warrants had been executed in the Railton Road (The Front Line) and neighbouring streets by officers from the Robbery and Burglary squads. T^his resulted in increased tension however Swamp 81 was still conducted.
  • For the second time community leaders were not informed of the impending operation which caused further upset, however the operation in the time leading o the disorder had lead to a 50% decrease in crime.

In this Blog I have covered the faults of the police and the problems they faced. We will all agree that the police did make some very serious but easily avoided mistakes. The next section of the Scarman Report covers his Conclusions and his Recommendations. I feel that these two vital subjects that still have relevance on the policing of today warrant their own Blog post and they will follow in due course.

Once again thank you for reading and I hope you found this interesting and informative.