Neighbourhood policing lead on community engagement, Covid enforcement and tackling drug dealing

Superintendent Mark Long

Superintendent Mark Long, who leads on neighbourhood policing in East Area. - Credit: Met Police

In the last of our series of features with senior officers in the East Area BCU, this paper spoke to Superintendent Mark Long, who heads up the neighbourhood strand.

"It's community policing in old money." For Superintendent Mark Long, in charge of neighbourhood policing across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham, working with residents is at the heart of his team's efforts.

His department bids to prevent violent crime from happening and works with communities and partners to achieve this.

Officers listen to residents' concerns, with ward panels helping to identify priorities in a particular location.

For Supt Long, improving the Met's reach into communities is a key focus.

"Community interaction is absolutely critical. We can't be there all the time so we absolutely rely on the community to provide us with intelligence and information.

"It's important that we engage the community to tell them what we are doing so that they understand, that they feel confident to go about their day-to-day lives.

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"It's also about mobilising that community to be part of the resolution to problems and you can't get that unless you have got that confidence in policing, that relationship in place."

Supt Long, who has worked in the Met for 27 years, said there is often a criticism that police are not seen on the beat.

Visibility is "important but not the be all and end all" in his view.

"Some of the work that can be undertaken to solve problems isn't visible," he said.

"If there's an officer there, the likelihood is that crime won't take place but that doesn't solve that issue happening.

"It's the work in the background and that doesn't need a police officer to be there."

He explained that while response units will attend a call-out to an incident of violent crime, it is up to his team to root out the causes of it.

The senior officer said his teams mostly focus on the main link to this form of offending, which is drug issues.

He gave an example where officers have worked with bookmakers on Ilford High Road to prevent people from going just inside their shops to deal out of view.

On how they go about stopping drug dealing in a certain location, he explained: "We'll look at the offenders that are actually doing that dealing, we'll look at the environment, what can we do to change that.

"We won't focus on one thing, because one thing isn't the answer to it."

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us and for the neighbourhood policing unit, it is no different.

Supt Long said it is "unprecedented" during his career for officers to have to enforce public health concerns.

He admitted it has taken time for this work to become part of "business as usual".

"We are losing officers to infections so it's really, really important that everybody follows the guidelines.

"That goes for our officers as well. It's important that they role-model the behaviours we expect from the community.

"Where people are not following those guidelines, then there's an expectation that they should intervene.

"I think they get that now, but it's taken a little while to bed in."

The Met announced last week that it would be taking a stricter approach to enforcing Covid rules, with anyone committing "obvious, wilful and serious breaches" getting fined more quickly.

When asked if the force has been tough enough on enforcing Covid breaches, Supt Long said officers have already been clamping down on large gatherings in East Area.

"We have been dealing with things like unlicensed music events very seriously and if we come across them, we deal with them and we will enforce on them."

With falls in crime rates dropping off compared to the start of the pandemic, Supt Long said this had hindered his unit's ability to do as much proactive work.

"If you've got something like this that goes on for 10 months, at some point people are going to have to try and find a way to continue their lifestyles.

"Some of the drug dealers, in March last year we didn't really see them on the street.

"It's very difficult to continue not to do your business 10 months later."

Across his long career in the Met, Supt Long has spent most of it on the frontline across north London boroughs.

He described working in neighbourhood policing as "massively rewarding".

"It's brilliant because you're able to interact with the community, you're able to see when you've made a difference.

"You get that thanks from the community. If you're a response officer, you turn up, you often see the worst of people, deal with the worst of people, put a plaster on it and go away again.

"In neighbourhood policing, you can see things from start to end and you can see the impact you've had."