Leadership roles within police forces are rarely easy the world over. However, the role which Ade Adelekan of the Metropolitan Police has is especially tough.
The Chief Superintendent is Head of the Metropolitan Police’s Violent Crime Task Force, he is, as the media headlines would have it, “the man battling London’s knife crime epidemic.”
There is unquestionably a serious problem to be dealt with. Recent figures
released show that children in the capital are now responsible for half of all knife crime. Adelekan is no stranger to highly challenging roles though. A former Borough Commander in Newham and most notably the Chief Inspector in Tottenham during the riots of 2011, he talks of the riots having done permanent mental and emotional damage to the officers involved as they faced down abuse and violence from the angry mob.
Despite his extensive and apt experience, he is a refreshing choice for this Task Force role, both because of who he is as a person, and also because of his approach to leadership. “Understanding people is very important to me. Treating them in the right way is equally important. My leadership values are humility and professionalism. You’ve got a serious choice to make if you can’t deliver a job professionally and with humility. We have the power to do a lot of things, but what is most important is how we use that power to protect the community. That is really important.”
When he was a Chief Inspector in the Territorial Support Group – a role that required him to break down doors early in the morning – he actively engaged with those he sought to arrest, “Yes, we’re going through the door, but when we manage to secure those rooms let’s start to have a conversation. We’re here because of this reason, it will take X amount of time, is there anyone in the house that needs looking after? If there are kids would you like us to explain this to them, would you like to see them?”
He explains that treating people with a sense of humanity doesn’t take away from the fact that they will still be arrested, but what it does do is, it opens the door to a different kind of conversation that starts with: Why do you do this? And that is what interests him, especially in his current role. Understanding people in order to find out why.
“Regardless of what industry you’re in, to tackle an issue you have to have an understanding of the problem. In my case we’re talking about people – you have to understand your people and their emotions, sociology and psychology. You’ve got to get underneath the problem, because if you start to define a remedy to a problem without understanding it, you might strike lucky, but most probably you will get it horribly wrong.”
Adelekan talks a lot about getting close to people who have lived a life of crime or are “teetering on the edge” in order to understand the root causes. He speaks of “carrying many stories of young people in his head”.
“I speak to a gang member who has done time for GBH and ask him, ‘What’s driving this? What’s actually behind it?’ These kinds of conversations are happening more in the Met now. We need the consent of the community.We need their help, their engagement and we need them to work alongside us.
You’ve got to get underneath the problem, because if you start to define a remedy to a problem without understanding it, you might strike lucky, but most probably you will get it horribly wrong.
On intervention, he has a key observation that draws on both data and spending time talking to people:
“Something I say often, and I will not stop saying, is that if you pick a young person and you compare their journey to the journey of others (and I use the word ‘journey’ deliberately), there is a whole list of things that are similar. What generally tends to happen for most young people that are involved in crime, is that there is no significant person giving them guidance, there’s no mentoring influence. That’s our intervention point, and therefore this is not just for the police. It is a really complex picture though. Some people will require more than one type of intervention. For people who have exited crime – especially with drugs and gangs, you have to replace these things with something that is almost as attractive, but legal, which is very difficult to do.”
He talks of the scalable opportunities working with corporates to get young people mentoring opportunities or jobs, citing responsibility and engagement from those in positions of power as a key source of new opportunities:
“If we’re going to put our money where our mouth is and talk about responsibility and the role we can play, especially with corporate companies being responsible as well, a big part of that is understanding what the issues are on the streets and playing your part within it. Whatever you can do.”
Adelekan exudes a remarkable optimism for someone in his line of work. There is no trace of cynicism or world-weariness in him. Born in the UK to parents originally from Nigeria, Adelekan went and studied at university in Nigeria but returned to work in the UK. He stumbled on policing having studied microbiology, almost ending up in a lab but actually joining the London Underground. He then applied to the police service, the fire service and the prison service. The police service cam’e through first and he has worked in it for the last 24 years.
“I do love people generally. Were I to give up hope in people then I shouldn’t put on the uniform in the first place. I’ve got plenty to be optimistic about. I see myself as very privileged. Privileged to lead people and privileged to be able to do what I do. It’s not a chore for me. It can be really challenging and difficult, but never a chore. There is a common purpose that unites all the cops, this is to do the best for our communities. Going into any conversation where I am about to step into someone else’s domain, it is about reminding us all of why we do our jobs in the first place.” He stresses that tackling violent crime requires strong partnerships. That includes working with communities and industry in addition to the statutory agencies.
“As part of my role I am keen to try and bring together key individuals and organisations who can really make a difference in this area, and sometimes that requires creative and innovative thinking. We cannot do the same thing and expect different results.” Forming new and sometimes unexpected partnerships is something that Adelekan talks about with importance. “People are dying, so I cannot stand by and say ‘that issue belongs to someone else’ – we all have a part to play and I feel my responsibility keenly”.
Following a test operation in which under-age cadets successfully purchased knives in leading UK supermarkets, Adelekan contacted a friend working in a senior leadership position in a prominent UK supermarket, to discuss what could be done about over-the-counter sales of knives.
“My contact responded brilliantly, he went into the boardroom and laid down an argument for why this is the right thing to do and almost instantly we managed to get them to take single knives out of circulation across the country, which was fantastic. I am keen to take this further and work with other retailers not only across London, but nationally, to look at what else could be done within the industry to help reduce knife crime”.
Given the limited numbers of senior BAME leaders in many industries, when asked if he felt a pressure to be a black role model, he explained that he doesn’t associate a pressure with success and the colour of his skin. “I’m aware of it. Do I feel pressure? No, is the honest answer. I felt pressure when my boy was taking his exams. I feel pressure to deliver the best job that I possibly can, but I won’t stop trying because of failure. If I fail, I will just try something else.”
It is clear Adelekan is very much a people person, someone who is intent on setting a strong example in and out of work. He consistently returns to the topic of how he conducts himself and how he treats others. He is as interested in the ‘how’ as he is in the ‘what’. Speaking with tenacity and energy, he stresses that day-to-day collaboration is all part of taking on such a mandate:
“I’m not saying I’m comfortable with failure, but failure is part of life. You get up, dust yourself off and you go again. Of course, I feel a burden, but I’m not carrying this burden alone. Please do not think I’m doing this alone. The whole of the Met is joined up. What I do is coordinate a lot of activity that drives some preventative measures, be it warrants, enforcement, talking to public and private organisations. I do whatever I possibly can in a coordinated and
methodical way so that we can establish whether we’re making a difference or not.
So, this is not just down to me. There isn’t a department in the Met that isn’t adding to the fight against violence. I just happen to be the bloke who fronts many of the conversations. And there are a lot of conversations to be had.”
Ade Adelekan is Chief Superintendent – Operational Command, Unit Commander of the Violent Crime Task Force for the Metropolitan Police. He is also a Forward Institute Fellow