Former MPS officer Dr Victor Olisa reflects on 35 years in policing
As Black History Month comes to a close, former Metropolitan Police Service chief superintendent Dr Victor Olisa QPM reflects on 35 years as an officer and on his life over the past five years in private and voluntary sector roles, where he continues to build bridges between the police and local communities.
I was lucky enough to serve in a wide variety of ranks and roles during my time as a police officer. I look back with fondness on that time but I’m as busy now as I ever was.
I’m passionate about widening access into policing and building bridges with local communities – this was a key part of my roles in the Met and it’s just as important to me now.
I work to coach prospective candidates who want to join the police. The main difference I have seen is that candidates from black and Asian backgrounds are less likely to have personal connections – a family member or friend already in the police service who can share knowledge about their policing career and assist with the application and recruitment process, for example.
They may well be the first person from their family to have considered a career in policing, and it’s vital that we give everyone a level playing field from which to launch their career. I think it’s important that past and present officers do what we can to encourage and support prospective candidates into the job, particularly those from under-represented groups.
I’m one of the vice-chairs of the Met Police football club; thirty years ago it was a works football club where police officers were able to play matches during work time, but policing regulations changed a long time ago and that is no longer possible. It’s now a fantastic community club playing out of Imber Court. Funded by the Met, we have a first team, a reserve team, a junior academy and a girls’ team.
Half the first team are young black men, and it’s a great opportunity to build bridges with our communities – players travel from across London to Imber Court proudly wearing tracksuits featuring the Met logo. If you are a talented young person who might benefit from joining the club, please get in touch. Our coaches and training facilities are great and we’ve had many players go on to play professionally.
Similarly, we are always looking for volunteers to help us with coaching and administration – if it’s something that you’d like to get involved with, please drop me a line. We’d love to have you.
I joined Surrey Police from university in 1982, having studied biochemistry. I enjoyed my studies but was looking to do something outside of the laboratory as a career. I remember the police advertising for people from ‘diverse backgrounds’ to join them – I liked the adverts but it wasn’t until a friend went on a three-day immersion event with Hertfordshire Police that I took any notice. He came back and would not stop talking about the police – it made an impression on me and I quickly applied for Surrey, Kent and the Met. I was keen to get started so when I heard back from Surrey first, that’s where I ended up.
I was the first black officer to join Surrey. Training school was tough – you had an exam every week and in that ten-week period if you failed two exams by getting under 70 per cent, you got kicked out. It was very stringent. I remember some people saying to me ‘You’ll be OK, the police want diversity’ but I was aware of a mixed race officer who had failed training school and I felt that this just put more pressure on me.
In the event, I passed the exams, got through training school and was then was posted to Guildford.
My first borough commander met every new recruit when they joined – he was waiting to talk to me when I got back to the station on my first Friday evening. We had a quick chat and then he said ‘I understand you play football’ and we then spent another hour talking about football; it made a big impression on me that a senior officer would spend the time getting to know me like that. When I left his office, word had already got round that I had spent over an hour with him – everyone thought I’d either done something great in my first week or I was in big trouble! The fact that I was the first Black officer at Surrey, and a university graduate, which in itself was relatively unusual in 1982, only added to the mystery.
Playing football broke down many barriers, I got into the Surrey Police first team which really helped. Without the football I think I would have had more problems with racism at work, from those resentful of a black officer – and a graduate – joining the police.
There wasn’t much of a black community in Guildford and people stared at me when I was out patrolling. It was often more out of curiosity than malice, but it was still disorientating and not something my colleagues had to deal with.
My team mates were great and very supportive. I had brilliant, experienced sergeants from whom I learnt a great deal; they planned and coordinated all our jobs really well – not just the big operations – and we worked well as a team. I learnt so much about team work in those first few years, about supporting and relying on each other; all the things which make you a good police officer. Not everything worked but learning from experience was important, reviewing what had happened in the canteen afterwards and suggesting what could be done differently next time.
I was in Surrey for eight years and then I transferred to the City of London in 1990 as a uniform sergeant and was later promoted. I moved into CID and worked in the Fraud Squad, Professional Standards, and on secondment to the Home Office, looking specifically at stop and search.
In 2005 I joined the Met as a superintendent and was posted to Southwark. I was thrilled to be at the Met – it was very busy and was everything I’d hoped it would be, but it was a massive learning curve, having come from Surrey and City of London, which were nowhere near as busy.
I was then promoted to borough commander of Bexley when the Olympics were on; this brought with it its own challenges in terms of geographical size, morale and crimes like burglary – it’s a huge area with far fewer officers than an inner city borough. And as it was the Olympics at that time we had a lot of people abstracted.
Then I was transferred to Haringey after the riots in 2011. I spent three and a half years there before moving to the Diversity Directorate towards the end of my policing career.
I was in Haringey at a really difficult time – the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan was ongoing and levels of public confidence and satisfaction were some of the lowest in the Met when I joined. But communicating directly with communities, telling them that we understood their concerns and explaining how we were addressing those worries made a big difference and we improved confidence levels significantly. Haringey was a difficult posting – but I would probably look back and say that as a police officer it had the biggest impact on me and I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to lead such a fantastic group of officers and staff.”
Dr Victor Olisa served as the borough commander for Bexley and Haringey, and was also the head of the former Diversity Directorate. His policing career started at Surrey Police, where he was the first black officer. He subsequently undertook roles at City of London Police, before joining the MPS. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Police Service https://news.met.police.uk/blog_posts/former-met-officer-dr-victor-olisa-reflects-on-35-years-in-policing-110762)