Acting Detective Sergeant Zac Idun OBE is a Family Liaison Coordinator based in the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command. He joined the police 26 years ago.
“When I walked through the door of Hendon Police Training College in March 1993 the world was a different place.
“It’s fair to say my parents, although proud, were concerned I would face racism from colleagues and resentment from some parts of the community. I was 30 years old and, don’t get me wrong, they knew I could cope but no parent wants their child subjected to humiliation at any age.
“Today, some people outside the organisation – particularly the younger generation – have the same concerns about racism within the police.
“I can hand-on-heart say that in my 26 years working for the Met Police, my experience has not been one of racism.
“As a youth in south east London, I grew up with a backdrop of the Brixton riots. There were areas my friends and I avoided travelling through at night because we knew there was a likelihood of being targeted by white youths. If we saw the police we crossed the road. Uniformed officers seemed to me to be anti-black and completely unsympathetic to communities that weren’t white.
“Every encounter I had with the police – especially the old Special Patrol Group, who tackled serious crime and public disorder – was a negative one. The sight of their vans patrolling was the catalyst for us running away. If our behaviour was suspicious it was because of our unease and the experience we had of some officers’ mistreatment of black people. As a community, my friends and I had little confidence in the organisation that was supposedly here to protect us.
“My parents raised me to respect the police but how could I if the police didn’t seem to respect me?
“When I joined the organisation that as a youth I had very little confidence in, it was a decision that completely changed my perspective.
“I was encouraged to take the plunge and apply for the police by an eminent barrister I had done some work for and a police officer who was really supportive when I asked for his advice on joining up.
“Despite the impression I had of the police, ‘the job’ itself appealed to me. I knew some people would think that I was selling out by joining but I liked the idea of making a difference to people’s lives and I wasn’t going to let the opinions of others stop me.
“I began police training on 24 March 1993 and the first few weeks altered my view of the police as I saw things from an additional perspective.
“Then, on 22 April 1993 – almost a month after my first day of training – Stephen Lawrence was murdered in one of the areas my friends and I had avoided as youths. Even today, I do not think people truly understand how the murder of Stephen affected the black community. As a new officer I thought very hard about whether I should even stay on.
Thanks to the relentless campaigning of Stephen’s parents and friends, his death was to be a catalyst for major change in the police’s perspective on diversity. Six years into my police career, in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, Sir William MacPherson concluded that the organisation I had joined was institutionally racist.
“Based on my personal experience, I didn’t recognise this description of the Met Police – we seemed to be far ahead of businesses and the legal system in our approach. But I knew the police did have fundamental issues – when I started out, my black colleagues who had been in the service for years told me horrendous stories of colleagues mistreating them in the 1970s and 80s. Surprisingly, they were very forgiving and keen to emphasise to their new team mate that things had changed.
“Yet it was clear that major improvements were still needed not just for black officers but for women and other under-represented groups.
“Based on my own experience, I can see the Met Police has come a long way. All officers are given diversity training when they join now. The organisation celebrates having a diverse police force, and those who are racist towards colleagues face serious consequences, like dismissal.
“This isn’t the only transformation I’ve seen. I started volunteering as a family liaison officer – or FLO – in 2003. To qualify for the role I had to go through a selection process, including successfully completing a family liaison training course. This training course is mandatory for FLOs across the UK, and development continues throughout their career.
“The role of the FLO is to support bereaved families while also gathering information that is potentially crucial to the investigation but at the time of Stephen’s murder it was not seen as so clearly defined. It was sometimes viewed by the public as a caring role with little flow of information. Although police treated the role seriously, even the perception from some colleagues was that it was to give families a cuddle and keep them away from the investigation. Sir William found that Stephen’s family and friends were not treated with the sensitivity and sympathy they should have been by the police.
“Even now the impact of what happened to Stephen on that night in April 1993 continues to be the cornerstone of effective family liaison and, personally, it’s still a cause of extreme sadness.
“As a full-time FLO and now as a Family Liaison Coordinator (FLC) managing a team of FLOs, I’ve assisted literally hundreds of people whose relatives have been murdered or otherwise killed tragically, including in the 7/7 attacks, the terrorist attack in Sousse 2015, the 2017 terror attacks and the Hyde Park bombings of 1982. Sometimes the relatives of suspects need support, as they are often not complicit in the crime and have also lost a loved one. Their involvement after an incident has led to the identification of essential evidence and contributed to families having a more detailed background about the person responsible for their loved one’s death.
“It’s a humbling experience to be present at the most sensitive, personal and traumatic time in a person’s life. It requires genuine compassion and a lot of personal resilience, but the result is a sense of satisfaction that you may have in some small way made someone’s life easier at a terrible time and helped an investigation team to establish what happened to a loved one.
“In December I was awarded an OBE for my services to policing. I’m pleased that 20 years on from Sir William’s comments, the quality and importance of family liaison has improved to the point that a FLC is receiving recognition for good work. And I’m not alone – across the UK there are thousands of FLOs who are committed to delivering the very best support to investigation teams and families.
“I’m due to retire this year, although I have been saying that for some time! My first priority is re-setting my body clock to more normal hours. Policing involves working long and sometimes extended hours under considerable pressure. It’s not for everyone but it was for me.
“I’m proud not only to have helped change the lives of others but to have been part of the change in the Met Police. We have far more black, Asian, female and minority ethnicity officers now than when I joined and we continue to need more, to represent London’s communities.
“From my perspective, it’s easy to sit on the side and criticise or complain but if you want to see change, you need to be part of the change. Consider joining the police, speak to officers you see and ask them about their experiences. Whatever colour, gender or religion you are, you will be welcome.”
The Met is recruiting police officers now. It’s not an easy job, but it is rewarding – packed with new and interesting experiences every day.
If you think you could play a part in making London a safer place, visit: https://www.met.police.uk/car/careers/met/police-officer-roles/ to find out how you could start your career in policing.
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