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Haringey’s new top cop: residents’ safety is top priority

PUBLISHED: 15:51 05 March 2013 | UPDATED: 17:49 05 March 2013

Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa, Haringey's borough commander. Picture: Polly Hancock

Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa, Haringey's borough commander. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

The Broadway meets Haringey’s new police borough commander on his first day in the job, and finds a man determined to build trust and replicate his past success.

Web chat: Ask the borough commander this Thursday

The new borough commander will be online chatting to residents on Thursday afternoon.

Ch Supt Victor Olisa will be holding an ‘ask the borough commander’ web chat on Twitter from 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

The question and answer session is the perfect way to get to know Haringey’s new top cop a little better.

People can submit questions from now via Twitter to @MPSHaringey using the hashtag #AskBC.

Ch Supt Victor Olisa only arrived in Haringey officially on Monday, but had already been out and about investigating his new patch by the time he sat down for a chat that afternoon.

It’s fair to say, it is definitely a very different area from his previous post in Bexley, officially one of the safest boroughs in London.

That said, it did have its challenges – a massive geographical area with a small number of officers. He obviously dealt with them: during his 10-month tenure, burglary reports dropped 24 per cent.

“Clearly, I had done things down there that the managers felt gave me the competence to work in a much, much busier borough,” he said. “In a way, it is a pat on the back – they are saying, ‘We trust you’.”

But things could have been quite different. Ch Supt Olisa completed a degree in biochemistry before deciding it possibly wasn’t the career for him.

“I thought to myself, I can spend my life in a lab feeding machines or try this outdoor life – I had this ridiculous notion of pitting my wits against some fantastic criminals.”

So, in 1982 he joined Surrey Police, where he worked for eight years – first in uniform, then as a detective. From there, he was transferred to the City of London where he had a “great time” and met lots of millionaires and billionaires.

“Unfortunately,” Ch Supt Olisa said, “they were all fraudsters and didn’t have a penny to rub together.”

Then he moved into stop and search – a controversial policy which has been blamed by some for straining relations between the police and the community, particularly in Haringey.

“It was a time when stop and search was causing a great deal of anxiety in communities. People were thinking we were using it in a racist and impartial way,” he said.

He was part of a small team advising ministers on the direction the policy should take. It was a time when there were more than a million stop and searches being carried out each year. That number dropped by 40 per cent in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

“It clearly had an impact on forces’ thinking,” he said.

After three years there, he was transferred to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), where he first worked in Southwark, before taking the lead role in ‘professionalism’ – one of the Met Commissioner’s priorities.

Then he was moved back into stop and search, this time leading the team for MPS.

At the time there was, Ch Supt Olisa suggests, an idea that stop and search was being used as an indicator of productivity rather than an effective tool to tackle crime. Since then, the number of ‘successful’ searches – ones which result in an arrest or a warning, for example if cannabis was found – has risen from between eight and 12 per cent across London to the high teens. In some boroughs, it is now consistently above 20 per cent – something Ch Supt Olisa would “absolutely” like to see Haringey achieve.

“Let’s make sure we are doing the right people, at the right time, in the right places and for the right reasons,” he said. “Not only do we need to make it more effective, but we also need to make sure it is done in a professional way, with dignity and respecting people who are stopped.”

From there, Ch Supt Olisa was moved to Bexley in April 2011, his first post as borough commander. He was there just 10 months before being asked to move to Haringey, where he steps into Det Ch Supt Sandra Looby’s shoes.

And they aren’t easy shoes to fill. It is a difficult time for the Met – the upcoming inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, and the proposed cuts to front counter hours at Hornsey and Tottenham police stations, and the closure of Muswell Hill’s volunteer-run front counter, have not been welcomed.

Ch Supt Olisa admits the latter is a “really emotive” issue. “For the vast majority of people, it is the only contact they would have with the police – the visible representation of order.

“But we have had a massive reduction in budget. Buildings do not catch burglars, cops do. If you have to choose between, ‘Do we keep the building or lose cops?’ we are going to keep cops.

“The real issue is people want to have access. But, rather than you come to us in a static building, at a location which was decided years ago, at a time set by us, which is not designed for disabled people, we want to provide a service that actually meets the needs of the people of Muswell Hill.”

However, these will not distract from his main aims – to improve the safety of all residents in the borough, whether they be young men on the streets on their way to a youth club, older people catching a bus to see their grandchildren or those experiencing domestic violence in their homes.

“We want to send a message: If you are a victim, we will protect you. If you are an offender, we will police you.”

Other priorities include tackling gangs, theft from motor vehicles and burglary. He has had considerable success with the latter, which he hopes to transfer to Haringey.

Then there is the relationship between the community and the police, which is “hugely important”. That’s why he spent much of his first day at presentations about the controversial Taser roll-out, where he tried to allay people’s fears and give them a bit more information on what was happening.

Ch Supt Olisa hopes to rebuild bridges and strengthen ties between the police and community – especially because he knows everyone needs to work together to create a safer Haringey.

“It would be fantastic if they loved us, but at the very least they have got to trust us. We need to get people to look at us differently.”

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