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August 2023: Wrong Care, Wrong Service
Sir Mark Rowley adopts the defund argument without the necessary bit of diverting resources to services that need it more, whilst his force finds yet another serial sex offender in its ranks
Another month, another onslaught of news stories of police misconduct, deceit, and ineptitude.
First of all, head of the Met Sir Mark Rowley is still calling for police chiefs to be given more power when it comes to police misconduct cases, as the debate about the status and function of ‘legally qualified chairs’ (LQCs) continues. Writing in The Times, Rowley said: ‘I have been consistent in calling on the government to reform police misconduct processes, so that police chiefs can be more decisive in dismissing rogue officers and restoring public confidence […] [police chiefs] should be able to decide who is fit to serve [in our forces]’ (quoted in The Independent, 10 Aug). It’s true that in the current climate, with public trust in the police reportedly at an all-time low, Rowley can’t really afford not to be seen to be taking a harsh line on misconduct – and, in theory, if he were to be given more power in misconduct hearings, he may well maintain tougher standards than some LQCs. The things is, in the long run, there is absolutely no guarantee that senior police officers calling the shots in misconduct hearings would be any better at upholding high standards – or any less biased towards an officer – than an independent chair. The finger-pointing between politicians and the senior policing figures continues…
We’d also like to give a shout-out to Kids of Colour and Liberty and their success in challenging racist policing. Last year, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was accused of using ‘deeply racist’ tactics after it issued a number of letters banning dozens of individuals from a Caribbean carnival event because they had been identified as ‘either a member of a street gang, affiliated to a street gang’ or ‘perceived by others to be associated to a street gang’. The force has been sending similar letters since 2006. Earlier this summer, Kids of Colour and Liberty sent a formal judicial review pre-action letter to the GMP and Manchester city council, threatening legal action. The force has now agreed not to send banning letters to individuals as a result of the threat of a legal challenge (The Guardian, 4 Aug). Kids of Colour said:
[We] would not challenge these letters if there was any evidence to show they kept the carnival safe. For us, these letters are a small part of a much bigger picture, that picture being unjust, racist ‘gangs’ policing, a practice we know has affected many close to us, such as the Manchester 10 and their loved ones.
News also emerged this month of another serial sexual predator in the Met. Allegations against PC Adam Provan began within weeks of his joining the force in 2003 (The Guardian, 22 Aug). In a story that sounds eerily similar to that of PC David Carrick, Provan ‘was kept in the force for more than 13 years, believing he was untouchable since little or no action had been taken despite repeated claims that he was a danger to women and girls’. During Provan’s sentencing, the judge commented that those within the Met ‘were more concerned with looking after one of their own than taking [one of his victims] seriously’ (BBC News, 23 Aug).
And finally, some police news as ridiculous as it is depressing: this month, Waitrose supermarket announced a new policy offering free coffees and other hot drinks to on-duty police officers amid a rise in shoplifting (The Guardian, 20 Aug). Head of security at the John Lewis Partnership said that the new scheme is aimed at encouraging a police presence in Waitrose stores in order to make thieves ‘think twice’ about stealing.
This month at StopWatch, we’ve:
Been part of a delegation of organisations in conversation with the mayor of London over concerns about potential sharing of ULEZ camera data with the Met, raised by Assembly Member Sian Berry and the Open Rights Group
Signed an open letter responding to the Met’s ‘turnaround plan’ with the Runnymede Trust and 24 other racial justice organisations
Been planning a special soirée for our friends and allies next month – please contact our operations manager Rachel (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like to come along!
Topics in this newsletter include:
The Met’s plans to stop attending mental health calls
Police violence caught on camera
And in Terrible Tech, a flood of personal data escapes the police’s clutches – again
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
‘Right Care, Right Person’: Police to stop attending mental health calls
This month, The Guardian reported that the Metropolitan police had won its fight to stop police officers attending the majority of mental health calls the force receives ‘after a tense behind-the-scenes row’ with the NHS (17 Aug).
Back in May, it was revealed that Rowley had written to health and social care leaders setting a deadline of the end of August for officers to stop responding to mental health calls, which was met with a furious response from senior healthcare figures protesting that Rowley’s proposal, and the speed of its implementation, would put vulnerable people at risk.
The August deadline has now been pushed back by two months. From 31 October, the Met will implement a scheme called ‘Right Care Right Person’ (RCRP) that aims to stop officers being diverted from dealing with crime to attend mental health-related incidents – unless there is an ‘immediate threat to life’. The scheme could require up to a million hours of additional healthcare staff time each year, based on estimates by both Rowley and the CEO of mental health charity Mind (openDemocracy, 30 Jul).
The announcement has been met with a combination of serious concern in the short- to medium-term, and tentative support in the long term.
On the one hand, concerns have been raised about the rapid implementation of the scheme and the lack of planning for or consultation on alternative arrangements. Dr Sarah Hughes, CEO of Mind, the mental health charity, said that the Met’s announcement ‘was framed in a deeply worrying way’, arguing that support for the most vulnerable people in society should not be driven by ‘the number of hours of work saved’ (Mind, 18 Aug). According to openDemocracy, local councils have also expressed alarm that some police forces are moving too soon to implement RCRP. The Met had initially given local health services just 13 weeks’ notice of the plans when the August deadline was announced: by contrast, the original pilot scheme (which was carried out in Humberside), took three years to implement (openDemocracy, 30 Jul). NHS England also confirmed that no new funding is being provided for the plan, and that any additional resources required will have to come out of health trusts and councils’ existing budgets.
In a letter to health secretary Steve Barclay, Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said that while RCRP ‘may free up police time, it fails to address the root of the issue, that the NHS is currently unable to match the demand on mental health services’ (Twitter, 18 Aug). Allin-Khan also raised concerns about ‘how calls to the police will be determined as being mental health related’, the lack of a national impact assessment and central oversight, as well as the costs associated with implementing the policy nationwide ‘and where the funds to cover this will come from’.
In July, the president-elect of the British Psychological Society told ITV: ‘To withdraw police support within the next two years, at a time when mental health services are already stretched beyond capacity and under resourced after years of chronic underfunding, is simply dangerous’ (ITV News, 18 Aug).
On the other hand, some have tentatively welcomed the announcement as a chance to rethink responses to mental health incidents, seeing it as an opportunity to invest in alternative, non-punitive models of mental healthcare. An article by psychiatry trainee Mashal Iftikhar published in the British Medical Journal titled ‘We should push for non-police alternatives to mental health crisis response’, explained that ‘[p]olice presence in medical institutions creates a barrier to people from marginalised groups seeking help, and it can lead to the criminalisation of mental illness’, with racially minoritised people ‘disproportionately on the receiving end of police involvement’ (BMJ, 24 Aug). But Iftikhar also pointed out that:
It’s not enough, however, to simply remove the police from the equation and leave those in crisis trapped in a mire of the social determinants in which their mental illness is rooted. Shifting the responsibility for responding to people in a mental health crisis away from the police requires investment in public health and community mental health services, social care, housing, and education. It will require sustained efforts to tackle poverty, social inequality, and structural racism.
We know that the police are woefully under-equipped – or maybe we should say over-equipped – when it comes to dealing with mental health crises. And in some cases, calling the police to attend to a mental health crisis can have fatal consequences. Time and time again, we see stories of police officers responding to those experiencing a mental health episode with shockingly excessive violence – particularly if the person in question is Black. For example: think of Deji Omishore, who was Tasered by Met officers on Chelsea Bridge and then died after jumping into the Thames, possibly trying to escape the Taser (The Guardian, 22 Aug 2022). In a similar case in Peckham in April, police officers Tasered a man thought to be experiencing a mental health crisis, causing him to fatally fall from a fifth-floor balcony (BBC News, 12 May). Or we could think of the cases of Dalian Atkinson, Sean Rigg, or countless others. Just this month, it was announced that five Met officers were being criminally investigated after restraining and pepper spraying a man experiencing a mental health episode in Camden (Your Local Guardian, 15 Aug).
‘I Can’t Breathe: Race, death & British policing’, a report by INQUEST, highlights the way racism contributes to the treatment and death of Black people experiencing mental health difficulties at the hands of the police:
They [families] saw a disproportionate level of violence and excessive response to the behaviour of their family member. Learning of the way police responded to their loved one’s mental health crisis with force that included prolonged and repeated use of prone restraint and in some cases baton strikes and Tasering led them to conclude their fathers, sons and brothers were dehumanised and racially stereotyped in the eyes of the police as ‘big, Black and dangerous’.
The report recommended that ‘the UK Government should urgently review national and international evidence on alternatives to policing in responding to people in mental health crisis, with the aim of creating nationally available systems which put community services and specialist healthcare practitioners at the centre of crisis responses, without police’. But crucially: ‘Improvements must also be made to NHS and community services to ensure they can prevent people reaching crisis point, and centre care and compassion not criminalisation, use of force and detention’.
So, while concerns about a lack of evaluation and alternative planning – as well as the need for additional funding for healthcare providers – are valid and worth pursuing, perhaps we should look at the proposed changes with cautious optimism. Could this be seen as a partial win for the abolitionist ‘defund and divest’ argument?
As Iftikhar argues:
Despite the socioeconomic climate that our mental health services are navigating, we face what could be the beginning of removing the police presence from emergency mental healthcare—and we shouldn’t squander it.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
Daniel Cooper, 40, was found unresponsive in a police cell two days after his arrest by Met officers. The IOPC have launched an investigation into his death (BBC News, 7 Aug).
Two Met offices face gross misconduct charges over death of Black man who died shortly after being restrained by up to nine officers, says watchdog (The Guardian, 3 Aug).
Serving police officer accused of sexually abusing young girl told her he was ‘lonely’: John Stringer of Gwent Police is charged with a total of five offences (Sky News, 1 Aug).
Thames Valley Police officer sacked after groping junior colleague: PC David Arnaud was dismissed from the force after a tribunal found him guilty of gross misconduct (BBC News, 2 Aug).
Silent rally held for Zayna Iman over alleged police abuse: Women’s rights groups gathered outside the Home Office in a 40-minute silence, one minute for each hour that Zayna Iman was allegedly imprisoned and abused at the hands of Greater Manchester Police (Morning Star, 4 Aug).
Cases of two men convicted on corrupt officer’s evidence referred back to courts: The referral of the cases of Saliah Mehmet and Basil Peterkin (who died in 2021 and 1991 respectively) by the Criminal Cases Review Commission comes after nine other convictions relating to British Transport Police officer DS Derek Ridgewell were quashed (The Guardian, 4 Aug).
Met Police criticised over number of stop-and-searches conducted without body cam: Concerns have been raised after data revealed the scale of stop and searches carried out in London without the use of a body camera. Between January 2022 and May 2023, more than 6,000 searches were carried out without a body camera being activated (Enfield Dispatch, 4 Aug).
Home Office withdrew £31m in Met Police recruitment funding over missed target: Scotland Yard lost £30.8m in government funding as a result of failing to meet recruitment targets – the only force in the country not to meet its recruitment targets (Evening Standard, 4 Aug).
Police watchdog investigates after Met officer punches handcuffed Black man in east London: Video shared widely on social media shows a group of officers holding the suspect on the ground as one of the officers punch the man (Evening Standard, 8 Aug).
Police face complaint over arrest of autistic Leeds teenager: A video uploaded to TikTok by her mother showed the girl being detained by seven officers outside her home in Leeds early on Monday 7 August (BBC News, 10 Aug).
Met Police officers investigated for ‘failing to give enough first aid to stab victim’: Usmaan Mahmood, 20, was fatally injured after being stabbed. The police watchdog said it was looking into the contact two police officers who attended the scene had before Mr Mahmood’s death, and whether the first aid they provided was ‘appropriate and timely’ (The Independent, 11 Aug).
Met police pay damages to innocent Black teenager ‘who had Taser pressed to neck’: Jamar Powell, who was 16 at the time, was stopped and searched, handcuffed, ordered to kneel in the street, and allegedly had a Taser gun pressed to his neck. He said that before the stop, he had been stopped and searched 15 times, and has now been stopped at least 30 times (The Guardian, 11 Aug).
Ex-PC jailed for sex crimes against 13-year-old girl: Haider Siddique, 22, pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual activity with a child. He was arrested after a bus driver spotted him acting inappropriately in March last year (BBC News, 11 Aug).
Detective told former partner his family from Grimsby estate would 'chop her up into little pieces and bury her in garden': PC Daniel Boulter has now been barred from policing following a misconduct hearing (Grimsby Live, 12 Aug). Boulter was hired by South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire forces despite a criminal inquiry by previous employer Northamptonshire police. BBC News (9 Aug) reports that he quit after admitting coercive control of two ex-partners and having lied to bosses.
Sex pest police officer mocked domestic abuse victim as 'thick as f*ck’: Former Merseyside officer Philip Jameson was accused of 16 different incidents of disrespectful or inappropriate behaviour involving fellow officers including on one occasion grabbing a female colleague by the hips and pulling her towards his groin on a night out (Liverpool Echo, 15 Aug).
Police and CPS had key DNA evidence 16 years before Andrew Malkinson cleared of rape: Police and prosecutors in the Andrew Malkinson case knew there was another man’s DNA on the victim’s clothes in 2007 – three years after he was wrongly convicted of rape – but he remained in prison for another 13 years (The Guardian, 15 Aug).
Former police officer charged with more child sex offences: Lewis Edwards, of South Wales Police, faces 54 additional charges on top of the 106 he already faces. At a hearing in May, he admitted 106 offences including blackmail, inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, making a child watch a sex act, sexual communication, making indecent images of children, possessing indecent images of children and a single charge of distribution (Wales Online, 17 Aug).
Disgraced Met officer joked about raping and killing a junior female officer: Detective Sergeant Ian Beattie, who led a team on the Road Transport and Policing Command, openly made crude sexual remarks about women and gave preferential treatment to the young female officers he was attracted to. A misconduct hearing was told he bullied some of the junior officers on his team, made sexist, racist and homophobic remarks, and officers were too afraid to report his behaviour to his superiors (Evening Standard, 18 Aug).
Cops share dozens of photos of dead bodies and crime scenes: openDemocracy investigation uncovers at least 45 cases where disturbing images were taken by officers (openDemocracy, 20 Aug).
Section 60 watch*
Banbury (24 Aug)
Stretford (11-13 Aug)
Knowsley (15 Aug)
Undercliffe, Bradford (2 Aug)
Blackpool (10 Aug)
Burgess Park (15 Aug)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Leaky data
Stories about police force data leakages normally come by in dribs and drabs, but sometimes, when it rains, it pours.
The fallout from the Police Service of Northern Ireland data breach continues, as one Democratic Unionist Party MP said serious questions must be asked at highest level of the PSNI amid fears over the safety of the officers whose details were leaked. Sammy Wilson said: ‘I think the chief constable has to ask himself: “What role do I play in all of this and is my position sustainable?”’ (The Guardian, 10 Aug).
Meanwhile, Norfolk and Suffolk police forces admitted to breaching the data of 1,230 people – including victims and witnesses – as a ‘technical issue’ led to the data being included in responses to FOI requests (Sky News, 15 Aug). Assistant chief constable of Suffolk Police, Eamonn Bridger, said police forces had ‘meticulous records of who has been sent the information… [but] it’s too early to say exactly what’s happened to all of it’. And Cumbria constabulary admitted to inadvertently publishing the names and salaries of all its officers and staff online earlier this year (The Register, 14 Aug).
And the Met had a scare as a third-party data breach exposed staff and officers' names, ranks, photos, vetting levels, and salary information (The Register, 29 Aug).
In another data-related policing story, an investigation found that police forces are unlawfully storing personal data of suspects who were subsequently cleared. Reports obtained by openDemocracy and Liberty Investigates revealed that ‘the government’s biometrics watchdog has repeatedly raised concerns about police breaching rules by retaining information of people who had been arrested and then released’ (openDemocracy, 17 Aug).
And as details of the Adam Provan case continue to emerge, the court heard that the rapist and former PC hoarded the details of more than 750 women on his phone, indicating a ‘fascination bordering on the obsessive’ with young women, according to the judge (The Guardian, 21 Aug).
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