December 2021: We come bearing unwelcome gifts
Several survey and statistical releases give us a familiar feeling, and it's neither warm nor fuzzy
We have made it to the end of another incident-packed year, one in which it feels as though only some battles were decided while the war rages on. For instance, although the nation survived lockdown policing, the threat of COVID-19 itself lingers among us, threatening to drag us back to the days when people were arrested for sitting on benches and police forces deployed drones to shout at people in the street. StopWatch teamed up with Liberty to stall the permanent relaxation of restrictions on the police’s use of section 60 powers, but it remains on the statute books.
And then there are new battles we’ve taken on, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that has absorbed so many campaigning groups’ efforts and will continue to do so into the new year. We vow to keep pushing for greater transparency and accountability in everyday policing.
One thing we plan to do in 2022 is expand on our initial exploration into the emotional impacts of stop and search, which we kickstarted with the Rights And Wellbeing (RAW) online summit in the autumn: we’ll have more info on this in the coming weeks.
We want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who have supported us this year with your hard-earned money, your help in highlighting police injustices and holding forces to account, scrutinising government policy, or by spreading the word about our campaigns and events. To all of you, we are truly grateful.
Topics in this newsletter include:
Several policing stat reports and stories from various quarters of the profession released, not all of them welcome
Investigations into Lamont Roper and Anthony Grainger’s deaths conclude
And in Terrible tech, Welsh police forces announce the release of a new facial recognition scanning app
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
We come bearing unwelcome gifts
’Tis the season for getting flooded with a tranche of articles confirming both what we fear and what the public thinks of the standards of policing in England and Wales.
The Ministry of Justice report Ethnicity and the Criminal Justice System, 2020 was the first of a series of gifts to fill our proverbial Christmas stocking (02 Dec). Its findings, as usual, found that:
… minority ethnic groups appear to be over-represented at many stages throughout the CJS compared with the White ethnic group… The greatest disparity appears at the point of stop and search, custodial remands and prison population. Among minority ethnic groups, Black individuals were often the most over-represented.
On stop and search, the extent of the over-representation is made clear with a table summary.
The dataset is a pretty straightforward one, focusing on criminal justice outcomes, meaning it needs to be read with context. So it is worth reminding anyone who’ll listen that a report published earlier this year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found:
only 9% of stop and search encounters are intelligence-led;
drug-led searches contribute to ethnic disproportionality despite evidence that there is no correlation between ethnicity and rates of drug use; and
no police force has been able satisfactorily to explain their disproportionate use of their powers (we have an idea).
The results of the MoJ report (that Black people are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system) resembled the kind of impersonal gift one receives from a random grotto Santa: predictable and unwanted.
Yet, not to be outdone, the Home Office published police use of force statistics in England and Wales for the year to March 2021 (16 Dec, thread of headline findings here). Racial disparities and use of conducted electrical devices (CEDs including TASERs) typically caught our attention among the ever rising number of annual incidents involving police use of force tactics: Black people were subjected to them 5.4x more often than White people; and CEDs continue to be the fastest rising type, their use doubling in the last 4 years.
Much like the Home Office data, the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) own gift was careful to frame its results on police misconduct investigations as likely due to improved recording methods and practices (09 Dec, pdf).
Almost 80% of 107 misconduct proceedings involving 293 police officers / staff returned positive verdicts (either gross misconduct (44) or misconduct (41) was proven). Of the 44 cases where gross misconduct was proven, 25 individuals were dismissed without notice, with 11 handed final written warnings. Final written warnings were also handed to seven of the 41 individuals involved in cases where misconduct was found proven.
Maybe all this will raise our levels of trust in high profile cases, such as that of the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW)?
Pollsters YouGov snuck a lively present into the mix: their polling of individuals in the 12 months to October this year found that the majority of ethnic minority Brits no longer trust the police (The Independent, 14 Dec).
This is at odds with crime survey data released earlier this year suggesting that there was a little more confidence in local policing among those groups until March 2020.
The policing of ethnic minorities during the pandemic may have played a part in the decline. We have some reason to be sure of this thanks to the gift of an investigative report led by journalist Mirren Gidda of Liberty Investigates (22 Dec, The Times (£wall)). Gidda found that anti-violence scheme Operation Pima targeted mainly Black teenagers under the guise of them being ‘the most prolific or violent offenders’ known to the Met. The story goes:
As with the [Gangs] Matrix, some of the people identified as part of Pima were apparently unaware of their inclusion on the list, which was shared in part with some local authorities. The Met told Liberty Investigates through FOI disclosures that some people it intended to visit received no contact from police at their homes, yet it still kept tabs for a year on their subsequent offending.
Others were sent a letter with the headline “Police Appeal – Help Prevent Violence”. It made no mention of Operation Pima, the involvement of the VSUs, nor the subsequent review of their activities. The letter… also did not mention a point that a charity claimed the Met raised with them: that an individual’s refusal to participate could be brought up in future court appearances.
Surprisingly, the season’s most promising offering came from the police themselves (The Guardian, 12 Dec):
Britain’s most senior police leaders are considering making a public admission that their forces are institutionally racist, the Guardian has learned.
Barrister Abimbola Johnson – recently appointed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to chair an independent board slated for scrutinising a promised suite of reforms – was adamant that any genuine drive towards becoming an anti-racist police force must be achieved from first principles:
The plan needs to accept institutional racism, if it is to be anti-racist… If the idea is to win the trust of Black communities, policing needs to start by acknowledging both the historical and current manifestations of racism in policing.
We do hope that police chiefs take this first step to resurrect relations between their forces and marginalised peoples living in overpoliced environments. The country cannot afford for things to worsen further.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The inquest into Lamont Roper’s death concluded that the cause was consistent with drowning, noting in particular the inadequacy of resources for water rescue along the canal and lock, the lack of sufficient police resources, and the lack of a specialised on-call dive rescue team (Inquest, 02 Dec).
Roper died following a police pursuit along the river Lea in Tottenham, London. A hearing will be held at a later date to determine whether the coroner will make a report to prevent future deaths on the issues identified. The river Lea (Leyton Marshes region) was also the site where 17-year-old Jack Susianta (of Indonesian and White Mixed ethnic heritage) drowned whilst being pursued by police officers in 2015. In this case officers also did not have rescue equipment and there was a delay in entering the water.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has completed the last of three investigations following on from the public inquiry into the death of Anthony Grainger, who was fatally shot by a Greater Manchester police (GMP) firearms officer during a police operation in March 2012 (30 Nov).
This investigation examined the role of two senior former officers in acquiring the CS dispersal canister used during the operation. It found that although CS dispersal canisters were unauthorised, the GMP had used them since 2007. It also found that the national protocols for evaluating and acquiring the canisters were not followed, but that the relevant code of practice also did not expressly prohibit the use of weapons that had not received approval from the home secretary.
As a result, the inquiry could not ascertain that either officer acted dishonestly or in bad faith at any stage, and therefore had no case to answer. The inquiry recommends the wording of the code of practice be improved ‘to provide greater clarity around the processes required to be followed’.
‘Stop and frisk’ was really bad: Says Matthew Yglesias in his Slow Boring newsletter, someone who, in their own words, would find themselves more on the ‘law and order’ side of policing debates.
Key line: 'At the end of the day, stop and frisk as a policy punished a subset of the city’s young men who had not committed a particular crime for superficially resembling a group of people who may have.'
Police Academy dropouts: Northamptonshire police’s chief constable complained to The Telegraph that police recruits are quitting, some within weeks, because they are too young and inexperienced to cope with the demands of the job (30 Nov (£wall)).
Nick Adderley said he and other police chiefs were becoming concerned at the dropout rates, which could undermine Boris Johnson’s plans for an extra 20,000 posts. While 100 officers a year normally quit the force, it had now risen to 120 - about a tenth of the constabulary's total number of officers.
After-school hobbies: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan pledged London’s Violence Reduction Unit to invest £1.3 million in a new programme, Stronger Futures, to provide 3,000 young people with positive opportunities after school, in order to prevent violence (03 Dec).
Racist WhatsApp remark officer expelled: A Metropolitan police officer has been dismissed without notice after a disciplinary hearing organised by the force found evidence of gross misconduct (IOPC, 17 Dec).
PC Harry Chandler, who was based at a North East Borough Command police station, faced allegations he used a racial remark in a WhatsApp text exchange with another police constable regarding which area of London to live in, in which Chandler used the P-word.
Chandler will also be placed on the barred list preventing him from future employment within the police service.
Joint enterprise film: Delinquent Nation has a fundraiser to help with the making of a short film that aims to raise awareness (among schools and in the probation service) of the law of joint enterprise, a piece of legislation ‘which could mean if you are seen as being associated with someone who commits a crime, then you could be as equally guilty as the person who committed the offence, even though you couldn’t have foresaw it was going to happen’.
For more information and to donate, please visit the GoFundMe donation page.
Section 60 watch*
Strangeways (23 Dec)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Welsh police announce facial recognition app
It’s finally happened: South Wales and Gwent police forces now have a facial recognition mobile app ‘to identify vulnerable, missing and wanted individuals’ in real time (South Wales and Gwent police, 07 Dec).
The joint press release promises suspects will be accurately identified even if they provide false or misleading details, and that cases of mistaken identity will be easily resolved without the need for a trip to a police station or custody suite.
This is quite the claim, considering the accuracy of facial recognition is very likely influenced by the data sets used to train its capabilities, and one wonders who and how the app was trialled on.
It is also surprising considering South Wales police published statistics from their trials in 2019 showing that of 96 ‘matches’ to the system, only 23 were correctly stopped.
Still, South Wales police have pressed ahead with the app, believing themselves to have addressed the concerns raised from Liberty’s legal challenge in 2019/20, namely that their automatic facial recognition systems now comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 to limit the potential discriminatory impact of the technology on racial or sex grounds.
However we are wary of police forces breaching their remit, so we hope our Welsh brothers and sisters keep an eye on how officers use the app in the coming months. 2022 may be the year facial recognition as an ‘anti-crime’ measure goes mainstream, a hint of police surveillance battles to come.
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’d appreciate any one-off or regular donations to help support our work. You can click on our Donate button below to go through to our donation page.
Have a wonderful festive break and see you in the new year, 🎄