April 2023: Nothing's changed
30 years on from the death of Stephen Lawrence, we still can't get the Met to admit to institutional racism in the force, let alone deal with it
The ongoing fallout from the publication of March’s Casey Review showed no sign of abating this month. We saw London mayor Sadiq Khan beefing Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, as Khan criticised those who refuse to use the term ‘institutional racism’ during the Stephen Lawrence memorial service in central London, as Rowley sat just feet away (‘There was no ambiguity as to who Khan was talking to’, said KC Matthew Ryder). Meanwhile, Rowley accused Baroness Casey of drawing undue attention to his rejection of the term, saying she ‘decided to make it the story’. And during the same committee appearance, Rowley clashed with Tory MP Lee Anderson in what The Guardian described as ‘furious scenes’ (26 Apr). ‘You might want to believe, commissioner, that you’re doing your job correctly, but I don’t think you are. I feel like I’m wasting my time with you’, Anderson told the visibly frustrated commissioner. As the Met faces its ‘biggest crisis since the 1970s’ (The Guardian, 6 Apr), it was observed that ‘the personal nature of the criticism suggests some in the Conservative party are not buying it, raising the prospect that the committee’s report may be troubling for Rowley’ (The Guardian, 26 Apr).
But, as always, it’s vital that we ensure our criticism of policing in the UK extends beyond the Met. This month, an investigation revealed that several forces in England ‘have higher rates of sexual misconduct and racism claims than [the] Met’ (The Guardian, 17 Apr), while others have highlighted Police Scotland’s ‘history of complacency’ when it comes to equality, diversity, and accountability (The Conversation, 19 Apr).
We’d also like to give a shoutout to the legend featured in this Politics Joe video clip, whose assessment of drug policy and police hypocrisy when it comes to stop and search is as entertaining as it is astute.
This month at StopWatch:
We published our guide to Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), and signed an open letter with Liberty, the Criminal Justice Alliance, Amnesty International, the Runnymede Trust, Unjust, Fair Trials, and JENGbA, calling for the pilot to be scrapped (Liberty, 19 Apr)
One of our volunteers wrote a blog post about the gangs matrix, asking what’s happened since the Met agreed to a ‘wholesale change’ of the controversial database last year
We were featured in a piece in City Monitor titled ‘Should London’s Met discontinue stop and search?’ (17 Apr) and in a Liberty Investigates story about the Met’s use of strip search on young Black girls (The Guardian, 6 Apr)
We attended the brilliant launch event for ‘Holding Our Own: A Guide to Non-Policing Solutions to Serious Youth Violence’, co-written by Liberty, Art Against Knives, No More Exclusions, Northern Police Monitoring Project, JENGbA, Release, INQUEST, National Survivor User Network, Maslaha, and Kids of Colour
Topics in this newsletter include:
Reflections on the 30th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence
New suspicionless stop and search powers
And in Terrible Tech, the ICO puts Surrey and Sussex on the naughty step while other forces get new tech toys to play with
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
30 years on from the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence: nothing has changed
Saturday the 22nd of April marked 30 years since the racist murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson Inquiry, officially titled ‘The Inquiry Into The Matters Arising From The Death of Stephen Lawrence’, was commissioned in 1997, and its findings published in 1999. Most famously, the report was the first to officially label the Metropolitan police as ‘institutionally racist’. Subsequent investigations and reviews into Stephen’s death and the Met’s handling of the case in the years since Macpherson have found evidence of police corruption, harassment, and direct and indirect attempts to discredit the Lawrence family and their campaign work.
24 years after Macpherson’s report came last month’s review by Baroness Louise Casey, which found – to no-one’s surprise – that the Met is not only (still) institutionally racist, but is also institutionally sexist and homophobic. As Stephen’s mother Doreen told the BBC this month: ‘I don’t know how many more inquiries and how many reviews you need to have to say the same thing and still no changes, and still denials’ (The Guardian, 19 Apr).
Macpherson was widely hailed as a watershed moment in policing. Indeed, ‘its 70 recommendations instilled many people with hope that racially discriminatory practices would be reformed’ (IRR, 26 Apr). But as Casey’s conclusions show, along with the grim contents of our monthly newsletters, dozens of other official reports and investigations, the government’s own data, and many decades of the lived experience of minoritised groups (and Black communities in particular), it’s impossible to claim that progress has been made. ‘What has become abundantly clear in the years since his death’, writes Stephen’s father, ‘is that systemic racism is still deeply rooted in the places that are meant to protect us’ (The Guardian, 22 Apr).
And in fact, much seems to have changed for the worse when it comes to racism in UK policing. For example, as Sarah Lamble and Megan McElhone point out, rates of racial disproportionality in stop and search are ‘comparatively worse than the figures from 20 years ago’ (IRR, 26 Apr). During the pandemic, these disparities grew: in the first national lockdown in 2020, the equivalent of one in four young Black men between the ages of 15 and 24 were stopped and search over a period of just three months. As we wrote in last month’s newsletter (March 2023: We’ve had so many watershed moments we should be swimming), Casey leaves no room for doubt when it comes to stop and search, labelling it as ‘a racialised tool’ that fails to achieve its purported crime reduction aims as extolled by senior police leaders, politicians, and most of the British media. Lamble and McElhone identify the primary reasons behind the absence of meaningful progress in relation to police racism as (a) the failure of those in power to properly grapple with both the meaning and implications of the concept of ‘institutional racism’ and (b) cosmetic ‘reforms’ that fail to account for the racism and violence inherent to the institution of policing itself.
If racism and discrimination are intrinsic to police organisations and their work, then reducing police racism either requires a fundamental change to the function of the police, or a harm reduction approach that limits the impacts of that function.
(IRR, 26 Apr)
Although the political establishment continues to suffer – consciously or not – from a lack of imagination when it comes to tackling discrimination and corruption in policing (and other social issues more generally), fortunately, not all of us are limited by punitive and selfish ideology (and / or misguided election-winning advice). More and more people are coming to the realisation that the police either exacerbate or are the direct cause of – not the solution to – a broad range of social harms.
The [current] moment […] is a moment crying out for intervention: against the harms that policing does to communities of colour, against the expansion of police powers in the name of ‘security’, and against the insistence on policing as the solution to society’s ills that has seen the real needs of our communities neglected for decades.
(Holding Our Own, p11)
The expansion of suspicionless stop and search powers: SVROs and the Public Order Bill
This month we saw an alarming expansion of ‘suspicionless’ stop and search powers. Suspicionless stop and search powers allow police officers to search someone without the need for ‘reasonable grounds’ – as is required in standard PACE section 1 searches. Time and time again, research and statistics (including the government’s own) have shown that this type of search is used disproportionately against people of colour even more than typical ‘suspicion-based’ searches.
Firstly, the Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) pilot launched in four areas in England (see our guide, ‘SVROs: Everything you need to know’, here). Once a person is subject to an SVRO, police officers can stop and search that person an unlimited number of times, any time, in any public place, for no reason beyond having an SVRO.
Secondly, this month saw the passing of the Public Order Bill into law. MPs voted in favour of extending suspicionless stop and search powers (similar to section 60 powers), against the Lords’ (very tame) amendments. The amendments, which would require officers to give their name, badge number, and reason for stopping anyone searched under these suspicionless powers, and would also compel police forces to set up a charter on their use of these powers, were taken directly from the Casey Review’s recommendations. Voting against his own party, Tory MP David Davis said during the debate in the Commons: ‘[…] we as a government have to set our minds to ensuring that every recommendation of the Casey report is put in place and to returning the Metropolitan police and other police forces to the level of public respect that we wish they had now’ (TheyWorkForYou, 24 Apr). The legislation was also condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said: ‘It is especially worrying that the law expands the powers of the police to stop and search individuals; [...] and imposes unnecessary and disproportionate criminal sanctions on people organizing or taking part in peaceful protests’ (UN, 27 Apr).
Although we weren’t naïve enough to expect the Casey Review to lead to any immediate or radical change, it’s depressing to witness just how quickly the present Government’s will to commit to the findings of the review has evaporated – it’s barely been one month since the report’s publication. And given – as mentioned above – that Casey cited stop and search as an undeniably racist power and as one of the key factors in the breakdown of public trust in the police, it’s particularly worrying to see suspicionless stop and search powers extended so widely and so rapidly. Time for another legal challenge, perhaps?
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
Joshua Ball died aged 26 after being restrained by Staffordshire police in 2018. An inquest jury has now found inappropriate police restraint occurred, including the use of a spithood, and ambulance failures. Joshua’s father said: ‘I am relieved and grateful that the jury has vindicated our longstanding belief about the inhumane and degrading way in which Joshua was treated by the police, ambulance service and hospital Trust. I am also relieved that the jury have placed on record that he was unlawfully killed’. (INQUEST, 31 Mar)
The death of a man in police custody in Liverpool is now being investigated by the police watchdog. James Riley, 44, died in hospital having been transferred from St Anne Street police station where he had been in custody overnight. (IOPC, 05 Apr)
The police watchdog has opened an investigation into a fatal road traffic incident in Sheffield following a vehicle pursuit by South Yorkshire police officers. (IOPC, 13 Apr)
Unnamed Peckham man
An investigation has been launched by the police watchdog after a man reported to have been experiencing a mental health crisis fell to his death from a balcony after he was Tasered by police. No discipline notices have been issued, and officers are currently being treated as witnesses. A Met spokesperson confirmed that the man was thought to be Black. ‘Police have not named the man, who was described as quiet, solitary and kind by neighbours in Peckham, south-east London, on Tuesday’. (The Guardian, 17 Apr; 18 Apr)
The IOPC has begun an investigation into a fatal crash in east London in which motorcyclist Rayhan Miah was killed following a vehicle pursuit by MPS officers. (IOPC, 18 Apr)
PCSOs ‘promoted so police can hit target of 20,000 extra officers’: Police chiefs are said to have been ‘fiddling’ the numbers to meet the recruitment deadline. (Daily Mail, 2 Apr)
Met officer guilty of raping woman then accessing her victim report in police system: The woman reported the rape to the police on 9 January 2022 and PC Ireland Murdock was arrested two days later. Murdock later searched for the victim’s name on a police system and accessed her restricted crime report when he had no policing purpose to do so, the force said. (The Independent, 4 Apr)
Multiple people in contact with police over further David Carrick allegations: Hertfordshire police continue investigation into Met officer who was jailed for life in February for series of rapes. (The Guardian, 9 Apr)
Police in England and Wales less likely to face discipline under new complaints system: Figures suggest fewer misconduct allegations are being referred than under previously discredited regime. (The Guardian, 11 Apr)
GMP and MPS officers condemned for WhatsApp messages: The IOPC found that Greater Manchester police officers shared ‘abhorrent’ group messages; meanwhile eight Met officers were found guilty of misconduct over discriminatory group chat messages. (The Guardian, 12 Apr; 13 Apr)
PSNI police officers to be prosecuted for allegedly sharing images of dead bodies: There is sufficient evidence to charge the two with misconduct in public office after an investigation by the police ombudsman, the public prosecution service said on Tuesday. (The Guardian, 18 Apr)
MPS use of anti-terror laws to arrest French publisher condemned: Ernest Moret was searched under counter-terrorism legislation after travelling from Paris on Monday. His employer claimed he was stopped over his alleged involvement in French pension-age protests. (BBC News, 18 Apr)
Met police continues to target Black music: London’s force denies conflating rap with criminality, but venues accuse them of ongoing racial profiling and censorship. (The Guardian, 21 Apr)
Met police could be failing to identify serial killers, watchdog says: Inspector of constabulary Matt Parr warns force is failing to investigate unexpected deaths after Stephen Port report. (The Guardian, 27 Apr)
Section 60 watch*
Slough (8 Apr)
Wigan (23 Apr), Moston (28 Apr)
Leeds (15 Apr)
Lambeth (16 Apr)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: developments in LFR, new tech toys for police forces, and ICO puts Surrey and Sussex on the naughty step
The Met confirmed this month that the force will push ahead with the use of live facial recognition (LFR) technology after new research carried out by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) reported a ‘substantial improvement’ in its accuracy (The Guardian, 5 Apr). The research, commissioned by the Met and South Wales police in late 2021, ‘found that there were minimal discrepancies for race and sex when the technology was used at certain settings’. Described as ‘gamechanging’ by the Met’s director of intelligence and ‘Orwellian’ by several human rights groups (including Big Brother Watch, Liberty, and Amnesty International), LFR ‘compares a live camera video feed of faces against a predetermined watchlist to find a possible match that generates an alert’.
‘Live facial recognition is suspicionless mass surveillance that turns us into walking ID cards, subjecting innocent people to biometric police identity checks’ said Madeleine Stone of Big Brother Watch, who warned that ‘[i]f rolled out across the UK, this could mean tens of thousands of us will be wrongly flagged as criminals and forced to prove our innocence’. Amnesty’s Oliver Feeley-Sprague added: ‘Against the appalling backdrop of the Casey report and evidence of racist policing with stop and search, the strip-searching of children and the use of heavily biased databases like the gangs matrix, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that faulty facial recognition technology won’t amplify existing racial prejudices within policing’.
In other police tech news, Thames Valley Police announced a force-wide rollout of new Tasers for eligible officers. The new ‘Taser 7s’, which will replace the current ‘X2’ models, ‘can reach further’ – up to 12 feet – and can ‘stun people faster’ (Bucks Herald, 12 Apr). Meanwhile, Devon and Cornwall Police this month launched a ‘drone unit’ to monitor drivers and motorcyclists. The drones can identify motorists from 6km away, and can alert police patrols to ‘poor driving or poor riding’ (BBC News, 9 Apr). And in Surrey and Sussex, police officers were found to have unlawfully recording more than 200,000 phone conversations using an app originally intended for hostage negotiators (The Guardian, 18 Apr). The two forces have been ‘put on the naughty step’ (The Register, 18 Apr) by the UK’s data watchdog, narrowly escaping a £1m fine (the official reprimands are available to read in full here and here). ‘The app, called Another Call Recorder (ACR), recorded all incoming and outgoing calls and was originally intended for use by a small number of officers […]. However, it was downloaded on to the work phones of more than 1,000 staff members’, The Guardian reported. ‘The automatic recordings, made over several years, included “highly sensitive” conversations with victims, witnesses and perpetrators of suspected crimes, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office’.
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