August 2021: A lot of shock, very little surprise
Police watchdog review of TASER use finds racially disproportionate use. StopWatch invites you to upcoming 'Rights and Wellbeing' online summit
Even in the month of August, a traditionally quiet time of year, we have found enough in the obstinacy of police chiefs to concern us, notably the National Police Chiefs’ Council boss’s defence of TASER use as part of a concerted effort to normalise the increasing militarisation of street policing. If the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Dalian Atkinson and Marc Cole are anything to go by, we hold little hope that police officers can make the make the right judgments when it comes to handling people with mental health issues, let alone approach tense incidents with stun guns. And then there is the racially disproportionate use of TASERS on Black people. The argument is obvious (outside of the capital, TASERS were drawn on Black people 8x more often than White people in England and Wales), as are the solutions (reverse the rollout of TASERS to ever more numbers of officers). However, just as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report on TASER use in the last 5 years came with many recommendations – many of which were ignored the first time around – so the NPCC were quick to suggest that they have enough solutions. We’ll see.
Ultimately, the more police legitimise TASERS as a use of force tactic, the more incidents will occur that induce trauma in the civilians they encounter. This is a matter of grave concern to us, as the burden of support for those who suffer from police violence rests on the individual themselves, and can negatively affect their family, friends, and neighbours in their local community.
This is why we have decided to launch RAW, an innovative project which aims to provide resources, group workshops and individual support to equip individuals with rights education to reduce the harm of police encounters, as well as providing therapeutic support to help people process and deal with the impact on mental health.
It kicks off with an online summit from 23 to 25 September 2021, which will involve a series of sessions designed to empower people to adopt a dual ‘Rights and Wellbeing’ approach towards dealing with the fallout from police encounters, focusing on paths of recovery from the traumatic effects of a search. Click on the poster image below (or this Eventbrite link) to discover the line-up of events and grab a ticket (it’s free!). More sessions will be added soon. We hope to see you there!
Topics in this newsletter include:
Police watchdog warns about racial disparities in TASER use
Same watchdog reopens case into Kevin Clarke’s death, wonders why officers weren’t questioned about Clarke’s pleas of ‘I can’t breathe’ during the incident
Tottenham Rights takes its stories to the heart of the establishment: The Institute of Contemporary Arts hosts the War Inna Babylon: The Community’s Struggle for Truths and Rights exhibition, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace
Civil liberties organisations write an open letter calling for facial recognition cameras to be banned as the Home Office seeks to make changes to the camera surveillance guidance
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
IOPC review finds racially disproportionate TASER use – shock!
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) warned that police use of TASERS ‘risks losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the public if community concerns are not addressed through improvements to national guidance, training and scrutiny’ of their deployment (25 Aug).
This follows a small sample review of 101 investigations conducted by the watchdog between 2015 and 2020 involving the conducted energy device, which resulted in 17 non-binding recommendations (to the College of Policing, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the Home Office) seeking improvements to national guidance and training; scrutiny and monitoring of TASER use; and data and research. The findings make for grim reading.
Roughly a quarter of cases reviewed ‘led to a case to answer finding or a CPS referral’
In 9 cases, they found that 9 officers had a case to answer for misconduct, 7 of whom had a case to answer specifically for their use of TASER
In 15 cases, they found that 22 officers had a case to answer for gross misconduct, of whom 11 had a case to answer with respect to their use of TASER
A recommendation for forces to review its guidance and training for custody officers was based on the deployment of the device on a man who was already in leg restraints and handcuffs
Another recommendation for forces to update their TASER policies and create a specific ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ on the carriage and use of Taser by non-firearms officers followed an incident where a man was tasered whilst self-harming
A recommendation for having appropriate personnel to handle a TASER is mentioned because of an incident in which a person was subjected to repeated TASER discharges by an officer who was crewed with an inexperienced officer with little awareness of the device’s capability
Commenting on the findings, director general Michael Lockwood noted that:
In particular, people from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds deserve a clear and transparent answer from police on why such disproportionality still exists – failure to address this risks undermining the legitimacy of policing.
Typically, National Police Chiefs’ Council led pushback on the report (25 Aug). Lead for less lethal weapons, chief constable Lucy D'Orsi, responded that the IOPC could simply have attended a TASER training course whilst undertaking its initial research to get a fuller understanding of the ‘extensive pieces of work already underway’ to deal with the issues addressed.
D’Orsi also criticised the report for looking at only 0.1% of TASER uses, something the IOPC report itself acknowledged in stating that ‘the cases we investigate independently will not be representative of TASER incidents overall’. But as the vast majority are handled by the police themselves, the public has no option but to trust that they are handled sensibly. Completely independent oversight might shed light on the true proportion of incidents that produce problematic outcomes.
Furthermore, as we mentioned in a previous instalment of our newsletter, TASERS have become the fastest rising use of force tactic for the police force, with the number of incidents involving them +86% in the three years to March 2020. This will likely continue, so while the NPCC tells us to wait and see what improvements are made, there’ll be more instances in which the devices are excessively used against people of colour and people experiencing mental health issues.
We fear racial disproportionality will worsen over time – no matter the efforts of some forces to moderate use – because of the increased take up of TASERS among forces, which will raise the risk of inexperienced officers with an overzealous streak doing serious (and sometimes fatal) damage to civilians. The report already highlighted one instance in which a probation officer used a TASER (page 51); a breach of national guidelines but no actual rules. This means that while it is not advisable, probation officers are not actually prohibited from using lethal devices. That the IOPC has to reiterate this guidance is what happens when the Home Office not only expands their availability, but the home secretary expressly tells officers to ‘zap the bad guys’.
And with instruction like that, things will get worse. As we told the Morning Star (25 Aug):
Unfortunately calls for greater scrutiny on their use have had no effect so far, and there is every indication that demands for better training will go the same way.
If our law-and-order government is really concerned about getting deadly weapons out of the hands of violent individuals, then they should restrict police access to TASERS, not expand it.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The IOPC has reopened its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Kevin Clarke, in light of the fact that the initial review failed to question any of the 9 officers involved about the audible recordings captured on police body worn footage in which Mr Clarke can be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe’ (IOPC, 12 Aug).
War Inna Babylon exhibition: The Institute of Contemporary Arts reopened on 6 July with War Inna Babylon: The Community’s Struggle for Truths and Rights, an exhibition curated by London-based racial advocacy and community organisation, Tottenham Rights, together with independent curators Kamara Scott and Rianna Jade Parker.
With archival material, documentary photography, film and state-of-the art 3D technology, War Inna Babylon chronicles the impact of various forms of state violence and institutional racism targeted at Britain’s Black communities since the mass arrival-upon-invitation of West Indian migrants in the late 1940s. The exhibition includes original tributes from victims’ families, case studies of the controversial 'sus’ (suspected person) laws and the gangs matrix and highlights legal developments that have resulted from Black justice campaigns. War Inna Babylon also presents a new investigation into the killing of Mark Duggan by Forensic Architecture.
Contributors to the accompanying panel talks and presentations include Leila Hassan Howe (Race Today), Suresh Grover (Monitoring Group), and Stafford Scott (Monitoring Group) and professor Gus John, who spoke to the BBC about the nature of institutional racism earlier in the month:
The exhibition runs until 26 September.
A brief history of police oppression: Stafford Scott is also on the CREMÉ Project Podcast talking about police’s relationship with Black Londoners, in particular through the lens of police oppression of Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm community in the 1980s to the present day (15 Aug).
Equal opportunities drug policing: Home secretary Priti Patel wants to ‘name and shame the middle-class drug users’ in order to shift the perception that some can take class A drugs without any consequences (The Times (£wall), 16 Aug). This includes police chiefs considering raids of university student campuses during freshers’ week ‘to drive home the message’ (VICE, 24 Aug).
Sergeant sends hateful tweets, ‘would have been dismissed’: A North Yorkshire police sergeant who retired after allegations of offensive behaviour were made against him has been found guilty of misconduct (Yorkshire Post, 19 Aug). David France was accused of sending over 2,700 tweets from his personal Twitter account between 2017 and 2019, many of a racist, sexist and generally offensive nature, while he was a serving officer. He took retirement in February 2021. A misconduct panel ruled this week that had France still been employed, the proven allegation would have been grounds for dismissal. He has been placed on a ‘barred’ list which places restrictions on joining other forces.
Automated facial recognition and policing: a Bridge too far? New article from academic experts Joe Purshouse and Liz Campbell examines automated facial recognition in light of the judgment of the August 2020 Court of Appeal in R (Bridges) v Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Others where it was held that the force’s use of automated facial recognition (AFR) was unlawful (Legal Studies journal (abstract), 27 Aug). The article’s authors suggest that the judgment leaves considerable room for police AFR to continue with only minor, piecemeal amendment to the legal framework, but that ‘the relatively unfettered rise of police facial recognition in England and Wales illuminates deeper flaws in the domestic framework for fundamental human rights protection and adjudication, which create the conditions for authoritarian policing and surveillance to expand’.
Section 60 watch*
Beeston area of Leeds (26 Aug)
Fleetwood (20 Aug)
Breckfield Anfield (21 Aug)
Appleby (14 Aug)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Droning on
In the UK, we are rapidly approaching a state of having cameras everywhere but not a single rule to moderate their use.
31 civil liberties organisations, led by the likes of Liberty and Amnesty International, wrote an open letter stating that the police and the Home Office have, so far, ‘completely bypassed parliament on the matter of LFRT (live facial recognition technology)’, in a way reminiscent of the rise of automated number plate recognition cameras, and that its use should be banned.
The complaint came as the Home Office published guidance on its use ‘during the parliamentary recess and without any announcement’ (Daily Telegraph (£wall), 22 Aug).
We feared that police authorities would treat the points of the Court of Appeal ruling against South Wales police as insignificant and press on with the rollout of LFRT, but it seems the Home Office itself has decided that breaches of privacy rights, data protection laws and equality laws are the minor details to be ignored or given lip service at best.
Perhaps the government thinks civil liberties campaigners are droning on about nothing, but what does happen when those surveillance cameras are mobile? An interview with sergeant Andy Sparshott, Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operations Manager at Hampshire constabulary, reveals the tensions that come with introducing surveillance technologies in public spaces (Police Oracle, 11 Aug).
Despite the claim that drone technology is ‘revolutionising’ their policing, the Police Oracle article also reveals less palatable instances of drone use. This includes Derbyshire police force’s use of a drone to spy on walkers in the Peak District during the first lockdown, which made sergeant Sparshott ‘cringe’, and triggered the public’s distaste for what he termed ‘collateral intrusion’.
The specs of the top-of-the-range machines are impressive: they have the capability for thermal imagery, they are reported to withstand heavy rain and up to 40mph winds, and possess the capability to ‘read the name of a boat in a harbour on the south coast… 12km away’.
We’d also have to assume that these cameras already have facial recognition capability, for protests among other things. So what are the limits on drone tech?
Well, it turns out Authorised Professional Practise (APP) from the College of Policing ‘doesn’t exist for drones’. Forces instead operate them under civil aviation regulations, and 2020 saw the introduction of new legislative powers (including the risk of criminal sanctions) for the police to enforce drone laws for civilians, while forces live by codes which they can display adherence to via third-party certification.
If you think there are serious issues with the way forces are deploying camera tech, whether for drones, facial recognition, or any surveillance purposes, you may wish to respond to the government’s consultation on proposed revisions to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which covers all of these things (you can read the draft version here). The consultation closes on 8 September.
StopWatch is a volunteer led organisation that relies on the generosity of trusts and grant funders to operate. We DO NOT accept funding from the government or police as we believe this would compromise our ability to critically challenge.
We appreciate regular donations via standing order, if you’d like to pledge your long-term support. Details are:
CAF Bank – Registered office: CAF Bank Ltd, 25 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4JQ
Account Name: StopWatch | Sort Code: 40-52-40 | Account Number: 00027415