Black in Blue?
What does it mean to be a black copper in the Metropolitan police?
By Ali Hull
With our news bulletins so often being dominated by street violence, one person you often hear being interviewed as an expert is Leroy Logan, who now runs his own security consultancy. But for thirty years, he was a policeman at the heart of the Met – described at the Macpherson Inquiry as ‘institutionally racist’ – an inquiry that he took part in. A committed Christian, he was also one of the founders of the Black Police Association, and his book about his life, Closing Ranks – my life as a Cop, is out now. His story is also the focus of an episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series on the BBC, and film star John Boyega plays him. His career was distinguished, and he worked long and hard to change race relations on the streets of London, being made an MBE in 2000. But it was never plain sailing, not even from the beginning…
When Leroy Logan joined the Met in the early 1980s, he did so despite the misgivings of his own family and indeed his own heart. As a black man living in London, he had been aware of heavy-handed policing from his schooldays. As he says, ‘More than once, I was stopped by the police – in front of my school, in my school uniform and with my trumpet case in my hand. My dad saw this happen once at the school entrance, and he got really upset with the officers. As a lorry driver, he was always being stopped already, and he didn’t like the way the police talked to him. He was always respectful when talking to others, but the police weren’t.’
Worse was to come, however: Leroy’s father was beaten up by two policemen, not long before Leroy joined the police, and unfortunately, his father found out his intentions not from Leroy himself, but from the Met. They were checking up on the background of their new recruit, and had gone to his parents’ home to do so. It was not the way Leroy had planned to tell his father of his career change. Having a promising career in science in front of him, Leroy had been working in an area that pleased his father. Joining the Met was definitely not a step in the right direction. And it was one he had doubts about as well. Yet, in 1983, he found himself at Hendon training college, with a new intake of rookie recruits, learning how to be a policeman.
Why had he joined? Not least because he knew police officers who were not racist, who were genuinely there to help the public. As he recalls, two off-duty police officers who used the same gym at the Royal Free Hospital, where he worked, had helped him to change his mind. ‘I would also see them in the pool, and we would occasionally chat in the bar … Meeting these two helped me see the human side of police officers. They talked about regular things like everyone else; they even offered to take me on some “drive-arounds” in the back of their car. The drive-arounds were fun. The guys were really nice and easy-going, although part of me did think, “This is Hampstead; police officers here won’t be dealing with the sort of aggravation they would have somewhere like Hackney.” I started to feel that this was some kind of calling that I had to follow through. I did more research, and in September 1982, I submitted an application to join the Metropolitan Police.
The good, the bad and the ugly
That contrast runs throughout his career and throughout the book – powerful friends and powerful enemies. The friends are sometimes from the BAME community, but there are many who are not: people who recognised Leroy’s gifting and wanted to work alongside him. However, he had more than his fair share of opposition, and the book deals quite fully with a blatant attempt to discredit him. Nor was his case at all unique.
Leroy was also involved in one of the highest profile cases of murder in London, that of Damilola Taylor, the ten-year-old boy killed on his way home from school. Initially, the enquiry got nowhere – the local community were afraid to open their doors. It was only when, as a deliberate policy, police officers of a similar racial background were sent out that the doors started to open, and the information flooded in. As Leroy explains, trying to find common ground when talking to people is crucial.
Describing his days in the police, he says ‘Whenever I encountered someone of African-Caribbean origin, they would talk to me in their native tongue or some form of creole. Even though I would not immediately understand what they were saying, I realized they felt more comfortable with me than with my white counterparts. This was in total contrast to when I joined the Met in the early 1980s, when communicating with the public in languages other than English was frowned upon. If a white colleague caught you doing so, he or she would indicate, verbally or by gestures, that it was a no-no. Black and minority ethnic officers, however, quickly recognized the importance of communicating with the public at all levels and in as many languages as possible, and the benefits this brought to our work.
Unfortunately, some of our white counterparts failed to recognize – or would simply never acknowledge – these benefits, despite the empirical evidence and objective business cases that have proven it, in both public and private organizations. I knew from very early on that a more reflective organization, using its languages and cultural intelligence in an operational setting, would be a great asset.’
This Affinity Policing policy, as it was known, was very effective. It also suffered from the austerity cuts that followed from the economic crash of 2008.
Bringing the story up to date
Leroy’s book inevitably leaves the Met on his retirement, but he is still in touch with that world, and what he can see is not encouraging, he says. We asked him about what is happening now, in the era of Black Lives Matter.
Q: Since you left the Met, has the situation for black officers got better or worse?
I can’t discount the possibility it has got worse. A disproportionate number of senior BAME officers are under investigation, those at superintendent level.
Q: So you are saying the Met is actively searching for evidence that these officers have done something wrong, rather than waiting to see whether complaints are made?
Yes. If a white officer commits an administrative oversight, they will be corrected inhouse. When I was accused of doing so, I was subjected to a formal investigation, and trial by media, because it was leaked to them. I was totally exonerated, and was able to show that white officers had been dealt with in a completely different way. That’s why they had to pay me compensation. In fact, I discovered, because I had kept good records, that I hadn’t drawn over a year’s worth of expenses, and that the Met actually owed me £2000!
Q: Why do you think things are getting worse?
We have had ten years of austerity and its aftermath, and all the independent oversight of the police, on issues of racial equality and diversity, that followed on from the Macpherson inquiry, has gone. Now the chiefs of police are marking their own homework. The Met has gone backwards, and it now looks and feels as it did before the Macpherson Inquiry. Officers are very heavy-handed with the BAME community. For instance, there is the case of a nurse, Neomi Bennett, stopped by the police in 2019.
She was approached by officers and had previous experience of police being heavy-handed. She felt really frightened, and so she wouldn’t get out of the car. She was bullied into it – you can see the video on YouTube – and then handcuffed. She and the car were searched, and nothing was found, but she was still arrested for obstruction. What obstruction? And she was detained for 18 hours. A white nurse would not have been treated in the same way. Police officers often seem to forget both the rules and their training when faced with a black person, in a way they would not do with someone who was white.
Q: Are people still joining the Met from the BAME community?
It is retention that is an issue. BAME officers are between four and five times more likely to leave the Met now. We were seeing people progressing, we had our first ever black Chief Constable in Mike Fuller, but it has all stagnated under austerity. And – dare I say the word – Brexit has had an impact. Hate crime went through the roof after the Brexit vote. It is a fact that right-wingers tend to be attracted to the police, and they don’t celebrate diversity, or want to promote it. They feel their time has come. People say the situation is not as bad as it is in America, but we have had our own cases, of people dying in police custody. There was the case, in 2017, of Rashan Charles, who died after the police officer used a chokehold on him – one that they are not supposed to use. He should have been dealt with as a patient, and it was a totally avoidable death. He – like George Floyd – died because he couldn’t breathe. If the officer had stuck to his training, it would not have happened, but police officers forget their training, when faced with someone from the BAME communities, in a way that they don’t when faced with someone white. Tasers are mainly used on black people.
Q: So how this be stopped, if what you are dealing with is ingrained racism?
That’s the problem. If you got rid of all the officers who have learnt prejudice in the home, who are racist themselves, you would have to get rid of half of the force, at least. Racism has gone behind closed doors, but it is still there. And we haven’t got the leadership to deal with rogue officers – the police hierarchy have lost their grip on this. Recently, in a Channel 4 interview, Cressida Dick said that the trust and confidence in the police in the black community was good. That is not true. And by announcing that the Stephen Lawrence police investigation was being stopped, she was handing a Get out of jail free card to the three suspects who have not been charged. She is saying that the police will turn a blind eye to racial attacks.
Q: So what has happened to the recommendations of the Macpherson inquiry, that set out to stop the Met being institutionally racist?
There is a Home Affairs Select committee, charged with looking into this, which met in 2019, but it was stalled, first by the election and then by Covid. We are still waiting for their report. The situation isn’t unique to London – other municipal urban areas have similar problems – Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands and Nottingham. The same things are being played out as in London. Recently, a man was tasered at a garage in the West Midlands, in front of his three-year-old child, who was left traumatised. Would that have happened, if he had been white?
Politics is now personality driven, not policy driven, and the police are the same. Cressida Dick has a lot of wriggle room, being the first female head of the Met. We need people of substance.