A few days ago LW was a first-hand witness to knife crime. One afternoon a fight broke out between two groups of white youths in Poplar. It seemed like nothing major for a hot summers day, punches were thrown, only one landing with any effect. So far so mundane.
A cold grey blade
Then one of the teenagers drew a combat knife like the one pictured below. Clearly the leader, he seemed to be using his mere possession of the knife to reinforce his control over the others and rally his group before they sped off on their push bikes.
The knife was not used. Nobody was stabbed. But to clearly see the cold grey blade of such a weapon not more than six metres away in broad daylight on one of our streets was astounding. A combat knife is just that. A knife for combat. It has no other purpose than to kill.
999 was dialled, a police van and two very polite officers arrived within a couple of minutes. Information was given and off they went to search for the boy with the knife. An appropriate response.
Where are all those police cars going?
Fast forward a few days. Same place in Poplar, Tuesday afternoon. Numerous police vehicles speed along East India Dock Road on sirens and blue lights heading east. LW counted 10. Several response cars, a couple of vans, several of those cute little BMW electric jobs. Rare to see so many police vehicles obviously responding en masse to an emergency at the same time. Another fatal stabbing?
The next day we checked the time and realised those 10 police vehicles were quite likely on their way to the arrest of one man by two other officers in Aberfeldy. How many officers in those vehicles? Anywhere between 10 and 20 maybe?
In the incident at the junction of Oban Street and Abbott Road on the Aberfeldy Estate, Younness Bentahar, a 38-year-old male, became involved in an argument with two police officers for a minor parking offence. For whatever reason the two officers attempting to make the arrest were unable to control Mr Bentahar, all three fell to the pavement and havoc soon reigned.
LW will not going into any great detail of the incident as this has been covered extensively by the national media, but we have examined video footage taken by various bystanders we have gathered during the week.
What is clear is that allegedly ’One cop brings his hands, which are holding a pair of handcuffs, on to Mr Bentahar’s body as two officers try to restrain him’ as The Sun puts it.
It is also clear from the videos that one of the officers loses his taser during the scuffle and it is left on the pavement for some time. Fortunately nobody thought to take it.
Our examination of the video indicates (if we were correct that the police vehicles we saw in East India Dock Road were responding to the incident in Oban Street) that our estimate was about right, at the height of the incident there are in excess of 15 + police officers at the scene in Oban Street East.
Fortunately for all involved several of those officers were grown-ups from the the MPS Firearms Command (SCO 19), every one of whom receives advanced first-aid training and many undertake further train to qualify as enhanced medics. They would have responded to a call for assistance from an officer, not because of any firearms issue.
While two of the SCO 19 officers take charge of the scene and calm the situation down their colleagues can be seen attending to Mr Bentahar in a professional manner.
Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation
The next day Mr Bentahar was released ‘under investigation’ and without being charged. Tower Hamlets police Central East Command Unit professional standards team have carried out a review of the incident in liaison with the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has also started an investigation.
It is fortunate that Bangladeshis are by nature peaceful people. But every community has their limit and one day an incident like this will explode into something much more serious. We personally experienced that in Railton Road, Brixton, during the 1980s. Policing and community relations have changed a lot since then, but possibly not enough.
The Met, like all UK police forces, remains a rigid, overwhelmingly male-dominated hierarchy which is institutionally resistant to change. Nobody knows about policing other than the police and the views of others are either ignored or absorbed by tick-box exercises of independent advisory groups or ward panels.
Too many police constables have to suffer being managed by senior officers who are not leaders. They are administrators who are more likely to have achieved promotion through membership of the Freemasons than ability. You might follow these people to the photocopier but no further.
It’s easy for people to analyse an incident after the fact from the comfort of their armchairs just like LW is doing now.
Few of us know the reality being a front-line police officer on the streets of London in 2019. Because of central government austerity cuts their numbers are way below what is needed.
And the continuing threat of terrorism sucks up many more. Which means the dangers of each street officer’s daily work is heightened and both individuals and the Metropolitan Police Service itself are losing touch with the communities they serve.
Coppers do not talk to people much anymore. Not their fault, reduced numbers mean they are confined to cars. But not knowing each other as individuals eats away at public trust between ‘us’ the people and ‘them’ the police. Instead of people doing a job we see symbols of authority.
Your call is being held in a queue
And when 15 + police officers are attending the scene of one arrest of one person for a parking offence gone wrong that may well mean that every available copper in the borough is at the same place dealing with the same thing.
So if you are unlucky enough to require an urgent police response at the same time you might be waiting a bit.
LW spends a lot of time on the Teviot Estate adjacent to the Aberfeldy undertaking community work. When we discussed the large police response to this one low-level incident with Teviot residents we were very surprised that residents were not at all surprised. Situation normal it seems.
The people we spoke to said that it is now routine for the police to respond to incidents in the area in very large numbers and they were baffled as to why that was. We are baffled too.
And the boy with the combat knife we saw? He’s still out there as far as we know.
He does not look like a thug until he has that knife in his hand, by which time it will probably be too late.
IOPC Appeal for witnesses
“This event has already provoked a fierce debate on social media and in the national media based on what has been captured in various recordings leading up to and during the arrest,” said IOPC regional director Sal Naseem in a press statement. “It is important that we gather all available evidence as part of an independent investigation to establish the facts. I would urge anybody who witnessed the incident to contact us.”
You can contact the IOPC by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0800 029 4688