‘I’d rather stop a teenage boy being murdered’: Top north London cop wants society to ‘police itself’ over masks in shops

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

Camden and Islington’s top cop has said that, at this stage, his officers won’t be policing the compulsory wearing of masks in shops.

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Central North BCU

Ch Supt Raj Kohli. Picture: Central North BCU - Credit: Archant

Quizzed by Camden Council’s Covid-19 oversight committee on July 21, borough commander Ch Supt Raj Kohli said he had received no direction on whether to do so. But he said he would have officers step in if situations develop into antisocial behaviour.

He told the meeting; “We’re not being asked to police [face masks].”

Asked whether he thought the police should be doing so, he said: “If asked, I would say no, I would much rather stop a teenage boy being murdered.”

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He said “the legitimacy of policing” has been questioned throughout the coronavirus crisis – during which people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have been more likely to be stopped by cops – and that it is important to encourage self-policing of the new government rules rather than a more heavy-handed approach.

He added: “Do I really want to put officers into the space where they are challenge BAME members of the community and everything that is associated with that interaction? We police by consent. We have to expect the public to take their lead from the government. Clearly if there’s difficulty in the shop we will come in and deal with the criminality, but I’m not sure I want to pursue the wearing of masks.

“It’s a really difficult space.”

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He said, similarly, he was not asking officers to police crowds, unless people were “causing antisocial behaviour”, as he did not want to open them up to allegations of racial profiling in situations where any arrest would only lead to a small fine.

At the meeting, councillors also raised issues of antisocial behaviour and crime around green spaces in the borough.

Citing more violent crimes in June this year than last, Cllr Oliver Cooper complained of a “spike in crime and antisocial behaviour near both Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill as people emerge from lockdown and enoy themselves but do so deeply irresponsibly”.

Council officers said the town hall had “linked very closely” with community safety staff and the police to reassure the public during lockdown.