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Top cop uses subversive website for drug debate
By Gibby Zobel, Big Issue, 18th Feb 2002
One of Britain's top policemen, who spearheaded the softly-softly approach to cannabis use, has broken more new ground - by opening his heart about drugs and politics on a subversive website.
Brian Paddick, the high-profile commander of the London Borough of Lambeth, has written 24 'posts' since January under the name 'Brian: The Commander' - in a discussion with members of the website urban75.com, renowned for its coverage of direct-action protests, drugs and anarchism.
On the bulletin boards where users register to post messages, Paddick, 43, who describes his interests as "police, gay issues, drugs", discussed a recent march by Movement for Justice in Brixton, asked for suggestions for Lambeth Police's new slogan, and explained his cannabis scheme , whereby those found in possession of the drug were merely cautioned.
In one debate, titled 'Guns/ Crack: The Commander - your opinion please?', Paddick said his "bottom line [is] screw the dealers, help the addicts". He expanded on his softly-softly approach to drug use: "We need to take the criminality out of it [drugs] by legislation and strict control. We need to keep pushing the boundaries."
Last week he told The Big Issue: "Clearly, we are not getting it right in terms of dealing with the problems of dealing in Class A drugs in Brixton. What the boards have enabled me to do is get a feel for what people think from their perspective versus what I know."
The commander became aware of the boards when a colleague informed him of racist and inflammatory posts by one of his own officers. He said no action had yet been taken in this case.
Paddick, Britain's highest-ranking openly gay police officer, emphasises that he is posting his personal, not official views. So far, his superior officers remain unaware of his activity.
"I thought people would tell me to go away," said Paddick. In fact, the ensuing debate on guns and crack in Brixton has set the bulletin boards alight on the popular site, which has 4,000 members and is visited a million times a month.
"There's an understandable stereotype based on the history of minority groups and the police that police officers are right-wing, racist, sexist and homophobic and not interested in anyone else's views. Things have radically changed but people's views have not changed. By engaging in a personal way on the boards I can break down these stereotypes," he told The Big Issue.
Commander Paddick's detractors will seize on some of his comments. "The concept of anarchism has always appealed to me," he said on one post. "Do not treat all police officers as lapdogs of a corrupt capitalist system. Dogs sometimes turn on their owners," he wrote on another.
He said the only thing he regrets writing is a throw-away line on pop music. "I think a comment I made about Kylie was a bit shallow! I have been described as politically naive. If this means I say what's in my heart, I'm happy to be labelled as such. I'm either brave or stupid."
Paddick now says he is looking to create internal bulletin boards for officers to speak to each other confidentially at the station.
Brixton-based urban75 editor Mike Slocombe said: "Brian is to be commended for having the bottle to do it. The biggest difference is that you actually feel like he's listening. He replies to what you say."
"This is the first copper I've ever come across who has had the imagination and sheer common sense to open up a police/public channel of communication in this way," said one poster, 'Red Jezza'.
A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said that there was no written policy on serving officers posting to bulletin boards and would leave it up to the individual. Posting inflammatory material would be investigated, she said.
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