‘It’s just a civil matter’
I’ve written before about problems experienced by renters calling police to properties when being harassed or illegally evicted.
The usual response is a refusal to attend, on the basis that landlord and tenant matters are civil and therefore not the preserve of the police and this is partly true.
Many landlord and tenant issues, including evictions, are indeed civil matters but harassment and illegal eviction aren’t. They are criminal offences. Trouble is, it’s the local authority that prosecutes them, not the police.
Therein lies the confusion
If, in the event, the police do attend, usually even if violence is involved, they generally still refuse to deal with it as a common assault, deeming this still part of landlord and tenant land. On occasion, they go further than just not acting and actually help the rogue landlord carry out the eviction.
By way of example
Last autumn I was presenting to a landlord’s forum in Folkestone for the council. I got chatting to one landlady after the event, who told me how she had evicted a lodger, whose drinking was starting to scare her children. About a week later the family were in watching TV when they heard a shattering noise outside, only to find the ex-lodger going at her front door with a chainsaw.
Terrified, she called the police, who refused to attend, because the words “Landlord” and “Tenant” came up.
Tenancy Relations Officer
Its been the bane of my life for 30 years as a working TRO (Tenancy Relations Officer) and a common frustration for anyone in my line of work across the UK and its something I have worked relentlessly on resolving but the police, if you’ll forgive the pun, are a law unto themselves and generally even worse at dealing with outside partners than local authorities.
Back in the 1990’s I approached Lewisham police and offered training for officers on the essentials of dealing with harassment and illegal eviction and pretty much met a stone wall for several years until a savvy sergeant called Phil Burke cottoned on to what a good idea it might be.
At his suggestion we produced some laminated cards to go in an officer’s wallet to help them deal with doorstep disputes and things did start to improve but, in the time-honoured police fashion, Phil was moved onto other duties.
Nobody picked up the baton.
Back to square one
A few years of badgering later on and I managed to find an inspector who also saw the value in training officers and arranged for me to spend an hour every 6 weeks or so, with small groups of new officers, as part of their overall training programme.
This ran for about 18 months and also saw improvements in the responses of officers until the inspector pulling it together was also moved onto other duties. The training programme tailed off again.
Wind forward to the noughties and I managed to persuade yet another inspector of the importance of having people properly trained. His idea was for me to train a group of inspectors at their venue in Victoria, on the logic that every shift has an inspector on duty who could answer questions of attending officers.
The words chocolate and teapot spring to mind.
Wind forward to 2013
Then around 2013 in a desperate bid to break the cycle of the revolving door of officers we worked with on these projects I went straight to the Borough Commander and told him in no uncertain terms, that his officers were committing criminal acts and we would have to start interviewing them under caution when investigating our own prosecutions.
This resulted in another round of regular training but this time, with the open support and backing of the head honcho.
This was the best period but to be honest, it wasn’t really the training that did the trick, so much as having the borough commander’s personal mobile number. If we had any problems in progress with unsympathetic officers, I would get on the blower to the Borough Commander and within 5 minutes the attending officers were on the phone asking what we needed them to do.
The downside to this was that I also had to give the Borough Commander my personal phone number and would often receive calls at 9pm from a dispute in progress but was happy……usually……..to assist.
He also connected me up with various people in the police training programme in an attempt to get something built into their general training – but even his intervention wasn’t enough to cause a culture shift in the force.
He no longer runs the borough and I no longer work there but the problem is still widespread across the UK.
Two years ago, we became embroiled in a particularly vicious assault on a family where the attending officers ignored the landlord attacking the family with weapons, ignored the injunction we had in place and arrested the neighbours trying to protect the family.
So we made an appointment with the Mayor’s Officer for Policing and Crime about the problem and they alerted the Met and gave us their support. This time we got traction and the Met, as an organisation, agreed to work with us.
That was 18 months ago now.
It has taken this long from that first meeting to actually get the programme devised and ready for launch because of various funding problems and staffing level changes in the Met itself.
And here we are today
In a sense, Covid 19 gave us the wind assistance we needed, along with the support of the crew at the Greater London Authority who have been riding shotgun on the project from the get-go.
There were still peaks, troughs and general wobbles and to be honest, I’m not sure the thing would have made it without the GLA keeping their hands in.
I wanted to write about the genesis of the initiative to explain to many people who just don’t understand why such a simple idea is so hard to pull off. It’s one of those Sisyphean tasks that have frustrated many people for decades.
I’m pleased and relieved that we managed to keep the Police’s attention for so long, they’re busy people and to have created something that is part of the Met’s training programme.
Of course, the proof of the pudding will come as the months roll forward but this is further than we’ve ever got in dealing with the problem.
Note – Ben’s Police training is part of the general initiative launched by the London Mayor which you can read about here.