April 2022: Don't back down, double down
Met police vow to adopt 'zero-tolerance' approach to racism and misogyny, while defending allegations of misconduct
This month’s keyword is ‘toleration’, as in the public have had to tolerate so many instances of wrongdoing among police and politicians while legislation is passed giving forces ever more powers to criminalise… the public. The rules only seem to apply one way.
It’s a tough sequence of events to swallow, but, we move. We continue to deliver our #RightsAndWellbeing sessions, with new ones on Nuances of Blackness in the therapeutic space and Herbalism, plant medicine & healing starting from May. We’re also taking applications for the new position of StopWatch research and policy officer (deadline 12 May).
This month’s stories include:
The Met police demonstrate an ability to tolerate misconduct by their officers better than allegations of it
And in Terrible tech, fingerprint scans are on the rise
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
The Metropolitan police has agreed to a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on racism and misogyny following the recent WhatsApp revelations of a police unit located at Charing Cross, according to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC). This includes a ‘public commitment to being an anti-racist organisation’ (Independent, 07 Apr).
These fine words came alongside a fine admission from acting Met head Sir Stephen House that the force’s culture problems extend beyond ‘a few bad apples’ (The Guardian, 20 Apr). Yes, it is the same Stephen House who said the Met was ‘listening intently’ to the concerns of marginalised communities on the issue of stop and search out of one side of his mouth and then ‘I want to ban the word disproportionate’ out of the other 7 months later. We’ll return to him later.
In the meantime, tales of misconduct are pouring out of the force, including this bizarre encounter:
‘A police officer took off his belt, turned off his camera and asked me to fight him during a stop and search’ (MyLondon, 19 Apr)
And this wild overreaction involving a Black teenager, that had shades of Child Q about it:
Met Police officers handcuff 15-year-old schoolgirl during stop and search in Stockwell (LondonWorld, 28 Apr)
So it is sensible for the Met to accept the police watchdog’s recommendations over standards of conduct among its officers. The optics of doing anything else would be too much, even for them.
They still have time to be stubborn about the stop of athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos from 21 months ago though (IOPC, 27 Apr). 5 officers involved in the stop face gross misconduct hearings that could see them sacked. But as Jawad Iqbal observed in the Times, their actions have been repeatedly defended by the top brass, including Sir House himself (see also Telegraph, 27 Apr (£wall)):
The Met’s acting boss, Sir Stephen House, maintained that two internal standards teams had reviewed the footage of the stop and ‘neither team saw anything wrong with it’.
Even now the Met is offering more pig-headed defiance, issuing a statement that House’s words were ‘factually correct at the time’. The lack of contrition speaks volumes about a broken police culture.
This behaviour is best summarised as the ‘don’t back down, double down’ defence.
And the lack of contrition has negative consequences for that police culture Sir House seemed so keen to excoriate. We have little faith in the few IOPC-directed misconduct hearings that take place, because ultimately in means forces are left to mark their own homework.
Ricardo dos Santos’s statement hinted at the exhausting nature of the complaints process (Metro UK, 27 Apr):
‘This has been a long journey, and one which has not been easy. We have been engaged in this process for nearly 2 years, and who knows how much longer we will now have to wait for the conclusion of the misconduct proceedings?
‘This sheds a light on how difficult it is to ensure the police are held responsible for their failings.’
Bianca Williams said that she hoped for the Met ‘to start being more honest and reflective about the culture of racism which is undoubtedly still a reality within the organisation’. However, for an increasing number of Londoners and other UK citizens, hope has dissipated; it is no coincidence that the #WithdrawConsent movement is growing. Far from meeting its promise to become an anti-racist institution, all evidence appears to show that the one thing the police will not tolerate is allegations of racist misconduct against its personnel.
Other policing stories*
Police monitoring guides: With the emergence of CopWatch groups across the country, Netpol has helpfully launched a practical guide to local police monitoring (06 Apr), with the aim of becoming a central source of support for people wishing to set up police monitoring groups in their local neighbourhoods. You can find a growing list of new local groups here.
Strip search changes: In response to the outrage over the strip search of Child Q, the Met promise to pilot a new policy in two London boroughs where any strip search of a child will need approval from an inspector (BBC News, 01 Apr).
However, this attempt to tighten strip search policy is not enough for some, with articles pushing for proper safeguards (Evening Standard, 22 Apr) and to #EndStripSearch altogether (gal-dem, 13 Apr) published in the last month.
No police in schools: In light of the Child Q scandal, the National Education Union (NEU) backed a motion that police should not be stationed in schools and that calling them in must be a last resort, at its annual conference. NEU president Daniel Kebede said the case highlights ‘a growing trend in which police are ever-present in schools’ leading to criminalisation of children (Guardian, 11 Apr).
A report finds the adultification of Black children in particular to be an extension of overpolicing in schools: Black children are more likely to face tougher punishments and ultimately are more likely to be excluded, because they are viewed as ‘less innocent’ according to the Commission on Young Lives in England (BBC News, 29 Apr).
Accountability checks for Met officers: Londoners may gain the power to scan passes to check officer’s authenticity, as part of the force’s commitment to rooting out unacceptable behaviour by its officers (Justice Gap, 06 Apr).
This proposal comes just weeks after a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that more than 2,000 warrant cards issued to personnel who had since left the force are unaccounted for.
The plans have been criticised by women’s safety groups for putting the onus on members of the public, and women in particular, for having to carry out such checks. Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition Andrea Simon said: ‘There is a significant power imbalance to these interactions and the responsibility is squarely with leaders in the police to ensure their own vetting systems and procedures root out officers who are abusing their powers for sexual gain – the biggest form of police corruption currently investigated by the police complaints body.’
Disproportionate drugs policing: Former undercover drugs operative Neil Woods, has called on police leaders to ‘resist the political pressure to sell a drug policy that has failed’ (Volteface, 21 Apr). Woods laments the fact that the UK police have gotten ‘so slick at social media’, and warns of the façade that their posts cast over drugs policing.
Elsewhere in drugs policing, the IOPC tells the Home Office that conducting searches on the smell of cannabis alone should be made illegal (Telegraph, 20 Apr (£wall)), just as a police force at the centre of the department’s anti-drugs pilot was found to have been disproportionately subjecting Black people to drug testing on arrest (openDemocracy, 21 Apr).
Excessive stops: A black teenager was stopped and searched 60 times in 2 years, one of a ‘litany’ of discriminatory and biased uses of stop and search described by the IOPC as it warned of an erosion of confidence in policing especially among marginalised ethnic minority communities (Times, 20 Apr (£wall)).
The police watchdog also revealed the stop and search records of one officer which showed that 79% of his targets were ethnic minorities, despite only 43% of residents in his area having that background.
The IOPC wants policing and the Home Office to research the trauma caused by incorrect use of the powers and for the ethnicity and gender of people subject to traffic stops to be recorded to see if the powers are disproportionately used against certain groups, amid fears police are embarking on ‘fishing’ expeditions.
Research into Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) activity also found an alarming level of religious discrimination under the Justice and Security Act (The Detail, 21 Apr). Of the 3,100 stop and search cases registered over a recent 12-month period, the PSNI searched twice as many Catholics (62%) as Protestants (33%).
The legislation was used to justify 16% of stop and searches conducted in 2020/2021. However, these instances resulted in an arrest rate of under 1%. The data collected is the result of legal action first launched by Steven Ramsey in 2013, which led to Sir Declan Morgan ruling that the PSNI should record this information in February 2020 (as Lord Chief Justice at the time).
Last year, The Detail found Northern Ireland had the third highest stop and search levels in the UK, but the lowest arrest rate.
Joint enterprise injustices: Human rights group Liberty is threatening to sue the government and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the law of joint enterprise (Guardian, 07 Apr).
Joint enterprise dictates that people present when a person is killed can be convicted of murder despite not committing any serious violence themselves. Therefore, simply being at the scene of the crime can give credence to prosecutors’ claims that the person has ‘encouraged or assisted’ the perpetrator.
There have long been accusations, supported by academic studies and parliamentary inquiries, that the gang label is attached disproportionately and without adequate evidence to Black and minority-ethnic young men.
Liberty is acting for the campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), who argues that the law is discredited and racist in the way the authorities pursue it. JENGbA co-founder Gloria Morrison said that joint enterprise has been applied in a racist way to ‘over-criminalise’ people, and described it as ‘common law, used against common people, that makes no common sense’.
This lawsuit comes as a report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) has discovered that a 2016 ruling by the supreme court – which stated that the doctrine had been wrongly applied for more than 30 years – has had no discernible effect on the number of prosecutions and convictions for homicide, and has also led to a rise in the number of Black people convicted of murder in the law’s name (Guardian, 27 Apr). CCJS director Richard Garside said that the findings suggest ‘meaningful reform to the controversial joint enterprise rules is desperately needed’.
Police get more search powers, public doesn’t like it: The police are set to gain an avalanche of extra powers as the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill becomes law (Fair Trials, 27 Apr). This includes granting police additional powers to stop and search in the form of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), which can make restrictive civil orders (with criminal punishments) on people with minimal evidence of involvement in criminality. We’ve argued that this will disproportionately affect minoritised ethnic people.
The legislative changes come as a YouGov survey finds a slim majority of Britons of all racial backgrounds oppose the expansion of police stop and search powers, especially when used on those they do not suspect of a crime (29 Apr). 58% of ethnic minority adults are against it, with opposition highest among Black Britons at 66%.
Can’t reform ’em: ‘Stop and search does not prevent crime. It doesn’t protect communities, and it only serves to traumatise and criminalise the most marginalised people in society’, writes Sophia Purdy-Moore in an opinion piece on the practice, following IOPC case studies exposing the routine racial harassment of children and young people experience at the hands of the police (The Canary, 22 Apr).
* Several stories were chosen from the Institute of Race Relations Register of Racism and Resistance. Click on the logo below to access the full repository
Basildon (06 Apr)
Pontypridd (18 Apr)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Police scans on the rise
Data obtained through freedom of information requests reveals a disturbing rise in police use of fingerprint scanners, noting how forces target people from Black and minority ethnic communities as an extension of the government’s hostile environment immigration policy (Huck magazine, 21 Apr).
In 2021, the Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists project Stop the scan uncovered how fingerprint scanning fed the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office Immigration and Asylum Biometrics System (IABS) database with no oversight as to the ethics of the practice.
Huck magazine’s findings found up to tenfold increases in the numbers of scanners held by some forces, and a racial disparity in their use of 6 times compared with white people. This disparity was highest in Cheshire (12x) followed by Devon and Cornwall (>7x more).
Our research and policy manager Habib Kadiri explained the situation as such:
‘It is no surprise to anyone who knows that people of colour are disproportionately targeted by these gadgets; the same units of officers who terrorise already overpoliced and marginalised communities with drones, tasers, and facial recognition cameras will deliberately misuse fingerprint scanners on the flimsiest of pretences.’
The future is bleak, the future is facial rec
This will be latest of several pan-European police database systems which include the sharing of fingerprints, DNA data, and details of vehicle owners between national forces, as part of wider plans to ‘modernise’ policing across the continent. Taken together, it will be world’s the most extensive biometric surveillance infrastructure.
Although a European Commission press release promises that because the tech is retrospective rather than live, ‘only facial images of suspects or convicted criminals can be exchanged’, digital rights experts warn that it may be maliciously used by state actors in future to target those they regard as ‘political opponents’.
Ella Jakubowska, a policy adviser at the civil rights NGO European Digital Rights (EDRi) explains:
‘When you apply facial recognition to footage or images retrospectively, the damage can sometimes be even greater, because of the ability to go back, for example, to a demonstration 3 years ago, or to see who I met 5 years ago, because I am now a political opponent.’
Jakubowska also fears that it will cement the normalisation of facial recognition by police forces across Europe.
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