Celebrating Police Officer Khafi Kareem for her contribution to the Lambeth community

The European Premiere of Captain Marvel at the Curzon Cinema in the West End recently had some serious Hollywood muscle: Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson and Eltham’s own Jude Law.

But among the specially-invited guests was a Lambeth police officer, sharing the red carpet with some of the other bravest women in the country, from Britain’s armed forces.

That police officer rubbing shoulders with the glitterati was Khafi Kareem, a black woman police officer from Lambeth.

She was there with the deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Lucy D’Orsi, to represent the force.

But within hours, the 29-year-old was back at Brixton police station, answering the call across the borough.

Khafi Kareem with fellow forces personnel at the premiere of Captain Marvel

She was at the Culture Tree Centre, in Commercial Way, Peckham, recently to tell families why she is a police woman and how she hopes to do some good by wearing the uniform.

She joined the force in 2015, after four years as a special constable, having worked as an actor – she was in a short film called The Evolution of Us and a Nigerian feature called Lost in London.

She also trained shop assistants for Marks & Spencer, while training 16 hours a month to be a voluntary officer.

But there was nothing glamorous about one of her motivations for donning the uniform.

A friend, Kodjo Yenga, 16, was murdered by a gang for straying on their turf in Hammersmith in March 2007.

He had been in her French class at school. “I was devastated and in shock and disbelief,” she said. “It wasn’t until the media started writing about it and flowers were left at the scene that it really came home to me.”

Khafi, a practising church-goer whose mother is a Christian and father a Muslim, added: “I have a sharp sense of injustice and want to make the world a better place. I grew up on an estate where people would get stopped just for having a conversation in the street – when they are not being a problem.

“I thought I should not complain about that if I was not prepared to do something about it myself.

Khafi Kareem with kids, staff and parents from the Culture Tree Centre.

Next day I saw an advert on a bus for specials and I thought ‘This is a sign’. “My family were not keen. My elder brothers laughed at me – saying ‘you are just a skinny girl – you can’t arrest me. “Part of me wanted to prove them wrong. I want to make a difference instead of shouting on the sidelines.

“People do focus on the punitive aspect – but we lock criminals up and help their victims – of domestic violence and child abuse.

“How will racial abuse change if people do not stand up for other cultures. I wanted to be part of the solution. “When I joined, I did not tell them, unless I knew them very well. Black people would say I was a sell-out.

“Some would be stopped and searched 15 times in a week, so I did not want to share details of my job. “But as time has gone on, I have become more proud of what I do. I help people. And I can break down preconceptions.

“People forget we are human, with a home and family, people who care about us. Some of the visits I do, people have never seen a black woman police officer.

“Apart from once, I have never been treated differently in the Met. These days, though, it can be more subtle and less overt.

“Stop and search has been disproportionate against black people. “But sometimes, there will be a group of black boys talking and my colleagues will go ‘What’s happening there’ and I will be able to say ‘They are just having a conversation’ “I do not think there is a magic wand to make it better.

Khafi Kareem with fellow forces personnel at the premiere of Captain Marvel

But the whole community is like a body – and the hands and the legs need to work together.

Khafi studied French and Italian and Royal Holloway University and also speaks Yoruba, a Nigerian language. She often makes use of her languages at work – and has been a translator for the Met’s female genital mutilation team, spotting victims coming through Heathrow.

“You see young girls by themselves who look dejected – you can just tell after a conversation that they do not have a reason to be travelling during the school term,” she said.

Lambeth has the highest concentration of mental health issues in the country, so call-outs can often mutate. But she also dealt with the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster – she was seconded to the team helping victims, near to where she went to college.

She has dealt with suicides and bodies found after being left for weeks. And she also has to tackle knife crime.

“What we are seeing now is young people carrying them with their books because they need to protect themselves just getting to school, not because they are in gangs,” said Khafi, who is currently doing sergeant’s exams and hopes at some stage to become a detective.

“A lot of children get told if they are bad, the police will come and take them away. “But we are also there if you get lost or something happens to you.”

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