July 2022: Swift. Certain. Tough. Needless.
Read to the end for some Met maths logic
So, we’re now more than halfway through 2022 and it looks to be almost as terrible a year for policing as the last.
The government’s recruitment drive to compensate for numbers cut during the austerity years saw the second highest number (since records began) of personnel recruited to the police force in the 12 months to March 2021. However, this has been undercut by record numbers of officers leaving the force, according to new stats. This means that by the time the government hits its target, a third of all officers will be newbies still in their probationary period, which, twinned with a growing culture of racism and extremism will no doubt lead to even greater levels of incompetence, arrogance, and abuse of power in the months to come.
This month at StopWatch, we have:
been busy recording a podcast with our girls and young women’s research project participants – more details coming soon!
put together a general guide on PACE section 1 stop and search powers – the latest in our new series of stop and search factsheets
recruited a new member (Holly Bird) who will strengthen our policy and research unit in producing evidence based information about stop and search.
Also, our next volunteer meeting will be held at our offices on Wednesday 03 August. Please contact us at email@example.com if you are keen to get involved.
Topics in this newsletter include:
Priti Patel’s new drug policy proposals: nonsensical and cruel in equal measure
New data shows that the Met strip-search around 5 children every week
And in Terrible tech, Met gets its maths wrong about facial rec tech
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
Priti Patel’s ‘punitive and contradictory’ drugs white paper
On Monday 18 July, The Home Office released a new drugs policy white paper titled Swift, Certain, Tough. New Consequences for Drug Possession – the latest addition to the government’s expanding portfolio of policy-by-random-adjectives – with home secretary Priti Patel promising to implement ‘tougher consequences for so-called recreational drug users who will face the consequences of their actions’.
Patel has been oddly elusive since ruling herself out of the Conservative party leadership election, ditching important committee appearances with less than a day’s notice (Sky News, 14 Jul), dodging scrutiny over her Channel crossings strategy (Guardian, 21 Jul), then evading questions in parliament about a ‘damning’ report sent to her in February from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal by publishing it on the final day of parliament before summer recess.
But she still had plenty to say about ‘the scourge of substance abuse’ in the foreword to the drugs policy paper, written in a tone described by Dazed writer James Greig as ‘affecting the stern register of a retired Army Colonel writing a letter to the Daily Mail’ (20 Jul).
Some commentators optimistically suggested that there could be ‘small green shoots’ of harm-reduction style policy visible in amongst the largely (and predictably) draconian set of policies (politics.co.uk, 22 Jul) – with some even going as far as dubbing the proposals ‘de facto decriminalisation’ due to the fact that previous distinctions that separated different types of drugs into different classifications would be removed, and apparently ‘first-time’ offences will not usually lead to criminal charges (JOE, 21 Jul).
However, a Home Office spokesperson has explicitly rejected this characterisation (i news, 19 Jul) – and these policies (if implemented) may in fact have the potential to set in motion a steady expansion of criminalisation (and, it goes without saying, of punishment).
Alex Stevens @AlexStevensKentThe proposed three tier approach would be a dramatic tightening of the current approach to most possession offences, which are for cannabis. Currently, many of these lead to unconditional out-of-court disposals. But tier 1 will be a de-escalation for class A drug possession. https://t.co/v6WSH71lts
Ultimately, the new proposals represent the usual ‘tired tough on drugs rhetoric’, as Niamh Eastwood from drug charity Release put it, taking inspiration from 90s-era American three-strikes laws, but with a signature Priti Patel makeover.
A ‘mess of contradictory objectives’
The white paper outlines a new three-tier ‘tough, escalatory framework’ that follows the typical punishment / deterrence approach towards drugs, with the addition of a few disingenuous and uncommitted gestures towards public health ideas, along with some interesting new extreme and imaginative punishments that will – surprise, surprise! – disproportionately impact minoritised and vulnerable populations, with – guess what! – deeply concerning implications for police stop and search practices.
The new plan also purports to target only ‘recreational, casual, non-addicted’ drug users, not those experiencing long-term drug dependency. However, as social justice and harm reduction charity Cranstoun pointed out in their response, it gives precisely zero clarity on how this distinction would – or even could – be made in practice. As James Greig points out, ‘if you are only using recreationally, you would have to be implausibly unlucky to be caught by the police on three separate occasions.’
Even if some parts of the white paper might appear at first glance to be diversionary – re-routing people away from the criminal legal system – or to have taken inspiration from harm-reduction approaches, many of the paper’s proposals could lead to some extremely worrying unintended (or perhaps not-so-unintended) consequences for certain demographics.
There are the more obviously problematic proposals in the white paper, for example: the fact that Tier 1 essentially enables someone with the means to do so to pay their way out of any serious repercussions if caught with drugs. But what this paper also does is that it erases the distinctions between cannabis and other drugs in such a way that results in a net-widening effect in relation to the criminalisation and punishment of cannabis offences. Priti Patel said in her foreword that ‘[f]undamental to this new regime is ensuring that drug users are more likely to be caught’ – and there’ll be no prizes for guessing how she intends to do that.
In 2020-21, stop and searches for drugs were up by 36% on the previous year: almost 70% of stops under section 1 powers were carried out in search of drugs. We already know that Black people are around nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, and that cannabis possession already drives racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system more broadly.
Citing our joint report with Release (The Colour of Injustice), an Independent Office for Police Conduct report published in April this year noted that, ‘[t]he reliance upon the smell of cannabis as sole grounds for a stop and search, and how it is used to justify the apparent over-policing of Black communities, is one of the greatest concerns we hear from stakeholders […]’. The report also went on to say:
In some of our investigations, the smell of cannabis has either formed the sole grounds given for a stop and search, or it has been the main reason for suspicion alongside either weak, non-specific concerns about behaviour, or vague intelligence relating to geographical location. These examples reinforce an often-held perception that the smell of cannabis is being used as an excuse to conduct a stop and search, especially when no cannabis is then found on the individual.
When, inevitably, the push to ‘catch’ more drug users and implement the ‘Swift, Certain, Tough’ proposals results in a giddy overuse of already-overused stop and search powers by the police, it’s not difficult to guess who’ll be targeted the most often – and the most aggressively.
However, some doubt whether these policies will ever see the light of day. Jay Jackson, head of public affairs at drug policy thinktank Volteface writes: ‘Even if the plans are favoured by an incoming administration […] with a 12-week consultation then a turbulent political autumn ahead, serious questions remain over whether these plans will really be implemented before the next election, which could be as soon as next year.’
In any case, what this paper tells us for sure is that as long as Priti Patel is home sec, British drug policy will never improve the lives of vulnerable persons or marginalised communities, and as Kojo Koram writes (Guardian, 21 Jul), ‘if these policies become law, they will lead to the incoherent punishment of a small minority’, while others who openly admit to similar drug use continue to get the benefit of the doubt.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The report of the Jermaine Baker Public Inquiry identified a catalogue of the most damning failures by the Met police ‘from the moment the operation was conceived, throughout its planning and right through to its implementation on the morning of 11 December 2015 when Jermaine was fatally shot.’ (INQUEST, 05 Jul).
Darren Cumberbatch died in 2017 following the use of excessive force against him by Warwickshire police officers whilst he was experiencing a mental health crisis in a bail hostel in Nuneaton. The IOPC ‘has admitted that there were material flaws in their original investigation into Darren’s death. They have announced a rare decision to reinvestigate key elements of the case, in particular the officers’ entry into the toilet cubicle in McIntyre House where Darren had retreated, and their subsequent use of force.’ (INQUEST, 28 Jul).
Footage of police searches of young Black men to be reviewed: A new initiative will see all body-worn camera recordings of stop and searches carried out by West Midlands police on Black men between 18 and 34 reviewed in an effort to tackle disproportionality (BBC News, 30 Jun).
Police officers filmed punching Black man, 21: The man’s friend repeatedly pleaded with the officers to stop, and despite the incident being filmed, the Met says no action will be taken against them (The Mirror, 18 Jul).
Met police officer sacked after punching handcuffed Black child in the face: A discipline panel found police constable Steve Martin guilty of gross misconduct, with Martin throwing the punch when the boy was on the floor and handcuffed as he tried to arrest him, despite the 15-year-old not resisting (The Guardian, 15 Jul).
The Met strip-search five children every week: Data shows 799 children aged between 10 and 17 years were strip-searched whilst not in custody from 2019 to 2021. The vast majority were for suspected drugs offences. More than half of those searched were Black, and only one in five were white (LBC, 25 Jul).
Following a legal challenge from Liberty, police drop Hackney-wide sanctions on a man who they accused of harassing officers simply because he had lawfully filmed them during stop and searches: The previous prosecution against the man collapsed because the Crown Prosecution Service uncovered evidence which not only undermined the police’s case but was also likely to assist in his defence (Liberty, 22 Jul).
Greater Manchester police make a racist attempt to ban children and young people from Manchester Carnival: Roughly 50 young people received letters from GMP’s Xcalibre Task Force, preventing them from attending this year’s Manchester Caribbean Carnival on the basis that they are either part of, or ‘perceived’ to be part of a gang (Northern Police Monitoring Project, 27 Jul).
* Selection from the Institute of Race Relations Register of Racism and Resistance. Click on the logo below to access the full repository of stories
Section 60 watch*
Oldham (05 July)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Face up to it – police scanning tech is not up to scratch
Are you someone who likes having your photo taken? Would you trust the police to keep it on file safely and securely? Do you have the star power to generate ‘false alert engagements’?
It doesn’t matter, the police will scan your face anyway. But these call-outs are the sort of thing the police spend their money on (and some of yours too), in order make sure that they are surveilling you just that little bit better. The Met tried this on four separate occasions in central London this month.
So how did Londoners benefit from it? The good people at Big Brother Watch kept a close eye on proceedings and saw nothing in it that could be marked as an improvement over and above a regular foot patrol. In fact, they spotted several problems the police record as ‘false alerts’.
Point of accuracy here: Notice the appearance of a ‘false alert rate’, calculated as the proportion of false alerts confirmed from the number of faces scanned by the facial rec cameras. It is otherwise called a false positive rate.
But why would you compare false alerts with faces scanned? Why not true alerts with faces scanned? After all, that’s a better measure of what the police are looking for, no? Or better still, the direct comparison of false alerts with all alerts (aka the false discovery rate)? police aren’t searching for errors in their system, they are searching for matches! Even if the Met wanted to spot errors accurately, they would have to know the false negative rate, in which case they’d have a hard time auditioning for people already on their watchlists to evade detection when walking past their cameras.
Still, when have the police been concerned with data accuracy? As the Open Rights Group warns, soon the UK will become a digital police state under the guise of data reform, as bulk sharing will be allowed with law enforcement agencies without proper checks and balances (18 Jul).
And we’ve yet to hear one police force say these powers will be ineffective at best and actively harmful to targeted minority groups at worst.
In Memoriam: Vicky Conway (06 May 1980 – 19 July 2022)
We’d like to take a moment to pay tribute to Vicky Conway, who died earlier this month. A socio-legal scholar who taught in both Ireland and the UK, Conway’s work always sought to shine a light on role of policing in modern Irish society (Irish Examiner, 22 Jul).
She wrote two books, The Blue Wall of Silence: The Morris Tribunal and Police Accountability in the Republic of Ireland in 2010, and Policing Twentieth Century Ireland: A History of an Garda Síochána in 2013, and in 2020 started a podcast called Policed in Ireland (@policedpodcast) which gave a platform to the lived experience of marginalised groups policed in Ireland.
We offer our condolences to her family for their (and everybody’s) loss. She will be missed. #RestInPowerVicky
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.