Policing From East To West

Kay Ayed wanted to find out from serving police officers about fighting crime in East London. But she had to go to America to gain any insight into the life of a police officer.

East London is often portrayed as an area laced with poverty and rich in crime – stabbings and street theft, especially. In response, I would have liked to interview local police officers. But whenever I requested interviews, they said that new rules mean they are not allowed to enter into unregulated conversations with journalists.

Though I am pleased to be seen as a fully fledged journalist, rather than (dis)regarded as a mere student, it does seem absurd that I can’t do my job properly and find out from police officers how they experience crime-fighting in East London’s hotspots. I bet the young Charles Dickens never had this problem when, as a reporter, he was allowed to accompany police officers on their night patrols.

Anyhow, with no easy way around the new rules, I decided to cast my net further afield. Instead of speaking to men and women from the Met, when I met an American police officer by the name of Wesam Tanana, I asked him to write for Rising East about his experiences on the other side of the Atlantic. Presumably that’s far enough away not to fall foul of the regime of police-press regulations which has come into force since Lord Leveson’s report was published in 2013.

Mr Tanana is not exactly a WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. So I was especially keen to hear his views on brutality and prejudice within police departments across America.

“What comes to mind when one hears the word ‘police?’ Some think of danger and oppression; others think of heroism and bravery. But I think it’s safe to say that the media have done one hell of a job of sabotaging our police officers worldwide, especially in the West. We cannot deny that our crimes rates have risen in recent times, and our need for police is at an all-time high. Interestingly enough, we’re seeing more and more young people of all races and colours losing their lives to the police, or is it because there’s more coverage on the media now?

“Police officers in the West go through some very extensive training when it comes to defence tactics and briefing high-alert criminals during stressful situations. With an increase in crime, it’s no secret that our police departments nationwide appear to have taken a new stance against communities; but who’s to say the police are completely at fault? When we look deeply into most of these police-related shootings, we see that our officers are often provoked by criminals, and when the police retaliate, that’s when the videos begin.

“You see, most of us think we know how our police officers should do their jobs or how they should’ve handled certain situations. But the truth of the matter is, that most of us wouldn’t know how to react in high-alert and risky operations.

“Let me introduce myself properly: my name is Wesam Tanana. Two years ago, I decided I wanted a career in Law Enforcement – I wanted to spend the next 20 years chasing criminals and being a “hero” in the eyes of my community.

“I was 21, one of the youngest to sign up for the force. After a few months of what seemed to be a lifetime of paper filing and background investigations, I was finally accepted by a local department, not too far from where I lived. Little did I know, it would be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods I would ever work for. I spent four months of training in hell itself – as intense as can be. Once I finally graduated, there was a feeling that rushed through my body, a feeling that I’m not able to articulate in a single string of words. I wore that uniform proudly and accepted my duties as a police officer.

“I was one of the youngest on the force, so most of my shifts began at night and ended during the morning hours. A vast majority of our service calls were domestic violence and homicides. It was never easy. Sometimes, we’d rush to a scene only to find a dead body covered in blood. Senseless killings were the norm, and it was my job to find out who committed such hellacious acts. Many investigations took months, which made the job very frustrating, knowing I wasn’t able to give families proper justice, or at least simply some accurate information.

“When you tell me about crime in East London, I think it’s a walk in the park compared to US crime. The main difference does stem from the UK’s laws on possessing weapons, but if a country bans weapons and still experiences ‘high’ crime, then imagine the state of a country where guns and other weapons are legal?

“As the days passed and crime increased, I sensed that my personality began to change. When I would go home, I’d be angry all the time. I had seen so much, and I had dealt dealt with so much that I felt no one would understand the pain I was feeling internally. Every night, when I would try to fall asleep, images would play over and over again in my head, and paranoia played its role continuously, even until this very day. I became very suspicious of everyone I’d interact with; I always thoroughly check every area I enter, and learned not to go anywhere without my firearm.”

Mr Tanana felt it necessary to take a break from his role as a police officer. But that’s not quite the end of his story.

“A year later now, and I find myself going back into Law Enforcement (you read that right). I guess it just becomes a part of who you are as an individual. It’s a love-hate relationship with the profession. It’s definitely a very difficult and stressful job, and it’s not for everybody.”