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March 2022: The state of it
The annual state of policing report is released, while coverage of a schoolchild strip searched leads asks serious questions of policing methods
This month, of the many stories covering police violence, corruption, racism, misogyny and more, the story of Child Q really hit a nerve. The traumatic effects of encounters like it is exactly what led us to devise our #RightsAndWellbeing sessions, because we know that the police do more to damage than to help marginalised and impoverished communities on a daily basis. For more on our sessions and to sign up, please visit our EventBrite page.
Elsewhere, we are making progress with our research project covering the little understood stop and search experiences of women and girls (read more here), and are proud to be a part of the Institute of Race Relations launch of their Register of Racism and Resistance, a new searchable database that documents key developments in racism and community action.
Our expanding workload means we are recruiting for a research and policy officer too. You can find out more about the role and how to apply from our Vacancies page.
Topics in this newsletter include:
The story of Child Q
The state of policing
And in Terrible tech, Live Facial Recognition tech returns to South Wales police, but is it a Bridge(s) too far?
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
The story of Child Q
Another month, another Met police scandal. It is hard to keep up with the output of controversies from the force, but it is also hard to match the peculiar level of inhumanity surrounding this one: In 2020, officers strip-searched a 15-year-old Black girl during an exam, all without an appropriate adult present. A couple of years on, a safeguarding review of the incident concluded it was unjustified and racism was ‘likely’ to have been a factor (BBC News, 15 Mar).
According to the report, the impact on the pupil – referred to as Child Q – was ‘profound’ and the repercussions ‘obvious and ongoing’. Family members described her as changing from a ‘happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse that hardly speaks’, who now self-harms and needs therapy.
In response, Scotland Yard said their officers’ actions were ‘regrettable’ and it ‘should never have happened’. So why did it? The law on police strip searches states that (The Week, 17 Mar):
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984, an ‘intimate search’ – a physical examination rather than visual – should only be carried out by a registered medical practitioner or registered nurse, ‘unless an officer of at least inspector rank considers this is not practicable’. If that is the case, having a non-medical professional conduct a strip-search ‘must only be considered as a last resort’.
What is likely to have happened, according to the review, was that school staff searched Child Q on suspicion of having cannabis, remained suspicious despite finding nothing, and contacted the police, who decided to conduct a more intimate search of the teenager. Ultimately, they found nothing. The adults involved then asked her to return to her exam ‘without any teacher asking her about how she felt knowing what she had just gone through’, according to the child’s mother. Child Q also happened to be menstruating at the time, adding to the trauma of the process.
The news of this abuse sparked nationwide protests (Independent, 17 Mar), reproaches from former Home Office advisors (ITV News, 27 Mar) and fears that abusive strip searches of children (and the adultification of Black children in particular) are far more widespread than the few freedom of information requested records available to us suggest (openDemocracy 18 Mar). LBC radio found that three quarters of the 5,279 children strip searched by Met officers come from ethnically diverse backgrounds (25 Mar). 16 of them were aged between 10 and 12 years.
Note that LBC’s data only refers to children strip searched after an arrest – Child Q is not among them – so many more take place on weaker suspicion. But, given that in so many other areas of UK life there is a moral aversion to any physical punishment of children (see the outlawing of smacking in Wales and the abolition of corporal punishment in schools), there is a wider question of why the police should be conducting strip searches on them at all, especially when the existing safeguards for doing so were ignored, as 4FRONT director Temi Mwale pointed out.
Why are we in a situation where people like ‘Michael’, who has been strip searched dozens of times since he was a child can tell LBC ‘it’s a part of life, like brushing your teeth’, and it not be a problem? Why are the powers that be afraid to call this for what it is – molestation – and do the right thing in abolishing it altogether?
Sexual assault is not acceptable in any profession. The police are no exception. There can be no excuses: #EndStripSearch and get police out of schools.
The state of it
The annual ‘State of policing’ report released by HMICFRS received notable coverage in mainstream press circles, partly because it was Sir Thomas Winsor’s final word on his time in the role, and partly because the policing profession has come under a lot of fire during his tenure as chief inspector (10 Mar).
There is much to take from Sir Winsor’s commentary, but answers to the problem of institutional racism in the force is not one of them. Indeed, searching for the words ‘race’, ‘ethnic disparity’, ‘discrimination’, ‘stop and search’ or any of its variants finds you only a handful of appearances within the 200-page document. There is more space dedicated to the recruitment of officers from ethnic minority backgrounds and the ‘mystery’ of low retention rates among them.
The accompanying press conference dealt more directly with the ‘bad apples’ issue (The Guardian, 10 Mar):
Winsor reiterated warnings that the ‘sheer magnitude and speed’ of the recruitment campaign to hire 20,000 police officers ‘inevitably carries risks’, adding that there is a ‘heightened danger that people unsuited to policing may get through and be recruited’.
‘If during the probationary period, a constable displays behaviour like homophobia, racism, misogyny or dishonesty, it’s necessary to take that really seriously. If they just say “well, he’s going to be a good cop, we’ll knock off the rough edges”, you’re storing up a problem that could last for 30 years.’
The victims of police abuse, whether racist (openDemocracy, 24 Mar), obstructive (Guardian, 01 Mar), or otherwise (Guardian, 17 Mar) shouldn’t have to wait 30 years for positive changes. Neither should the public have to wait for the police to ramp up their efforts to tackle online crime if it is ‘by far’ the most prevalent type of crime nowadays, according to Sir Winsor, who claimed that children were now ‘more unsafe in their own bedrooms’ than out on the streets. Tell that to the officers who regularly stop and search children under the pretence of combating knife and drug crime.
Unfortunately, a core recommendation of the report revived a tired trope: that the police need more money to become an effective crime-fighting force (Police Professional, 10 Mar).
[Sir Tom Winsor] said the public needs to understand it will have to tolerate a certain level of ‘threat’ to persons and property if additional funds are not forthcoming.
He said: ‘The police service cannot meet 100% of public expectations for, say, 70% of their efficient cost. The public, through their elected representatives, must decide how much risk and harm they are prepared to accept, and whether they will pay more for higher levels of public safety.’
We’d be amazed if police met 70% of our expectations when it comes to stop and searches, or if just one prominent police official could articulate convincingly why they need more, rather than fewer, powers. It seems clear to us that there is a spiralling logic at play: perceived crime threats ➡ more powers ➡ calls for greater resources to utilise granted powers, and so on it goes.
This argument is the same the world over: in Ireland, for instance, Dr Vicky Conway has written about the myth of under resourced Gardaí, making the point that claims of under resourced forces only mean something ‘if we have some sense of what resourcing they need. And we don’t’.
In Britain, our policymakers have absorbed public order policing rhetoric to the point that officers are guaranteed more powers to criminalise people even if they don’t want them. But we’d like the next HMICFRS chief to think about the merits of reducing the police burden, especially for those perceived crime threats that may not materialise.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The latest twist to the Bayoh case saw both solicitor general Ruth Charteris QC and deputy chief constable of Police Scotland Fiona Taylor refuse to guarantee that no evidence given to the inquiry by any officer will be used against 12 named officers in any disciplinary or criminal proceedings (The National, 28 Mar).
Charteris said: ‘I have considered all the information available to me, and I am not currently satisfied that it is in the public interest to grant the undertakings.’
Permission may be given on an individual basis instead. Inquiry chair Lord Bracadale will now seek statements from each officer to ascertain how much information they are willing to provide to the inquiry without undertakings from the solicitor general.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has announced that a West Midlands firearms officer who shot dead Sean Fitzgerald on 04 January 2019 during a police operation is being investigated for potential homicide offences (INQUEST, 14 Mar). Sean was 31 when he died after receiving a single gunshot wound to the chest as he exited a property, whilst unarmed, in Burnaby Road in Coventry.
No individual police officer has ever been found guilty of murder or manslaughter offences following a fatal police shooting in England and Wales.
‘Requires improvement’: Greater Manchester police (GMP) data recording is now adequate, but still falling short of expectations in other areas, according to its latest inspection report (BBC News, 03 Mar).
GMP was put in special measures in 2020 for failing to record 80,000 crimes, and HMICFRS undertook a review after a damning report published in December that year found the force's service to victims of crime was also a ‘serious cause of concern’. Further reviews of the force will conclude by September 2022.
Suppressing details: Journalist Katie French summarises how she exposed Hants police force’s secrecy around misconduct hearings over police officers (Basingstoke Gazette, 03 Mar).
TACTful stop and search: The latest Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 found that in the year ending 31 December 2021, 383 persons were stopped and searched by the Metropolitan Police Service under section 43 of TACT 2000, a decrease of 27% compared with the previous year’s total of 524. There were also 30 fewer arrests (27 in total) resulting from a s.43 stop and search than the previous year.
2,495 persons were subject to the use of Schedule 7 to TACT 2000 in Great Britain, 25% down on the previous year, and 39% of examinations made under Schedule 7 of TACT 2000 resulted in at least one biometric identifier being taken from an individual (1,031 persons out of 2,631 examinations). You can read our summary here.
Little faith: Almost half (46%) of women say they have little trust in the police’s ability to keep women safe in public, according to a new poll by Savanta ComRes to mark International Women’s Day (Londonlovesbusiness, 08 Mar). This is 5 percentage points up on polling conducted in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s murder.
77% of women who have experienced sexual harassment in public say they never reported the incident to the police, with 57% saying they have little trust in the Crown Prosecution Service’s ability to prosecute crimes against them (up from 51% in 2021).
Seven in ten (70%) UK adults, with three quarters (75%) of women, say the police need to do more to better support women’s safety in public, up from 55% and 59% in 2021.
Bad Apples: Reporter Cara McGoogan investigates shocking claims of bullying, sexual harassment and violence within the ranks of the police towards female officers (BBC Radio 4, 22 Mar).
Stopped twice in one week: Eric Taylor was racially profiled twice by Met police in a week, on the second occasion cornered by 3 police cars (MyLondon, 29 Mar). This came after a stop where officers said he was ‘not dressed for the climate’ went viral.
During both stops, the 20-year-old was detained and searched but nothing was found. A formal complaint was filed and is being handled by the Met.
Taylor told MyLondon: ‘I’m scared to go out. Now I feel like cutting my hair or changing my looks when I’m going out. It’s crazy. I don’t even know how it happened to me again, just right now again. I’m scared now, I don’t know. Yesterday the whole night I was shaking the whole time.’
Schooling or policing? Psychology lecturer Khadijah Anabah writes about how policing destroys the nurture and caring environment that schooling is meant to provide (Novara Media, 29 Mar).
Section 60 watch*
Harlow (24 Mar)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Facial rec returns to South Wales
Almost 18 months after the Court of Appeal ruled its use breached privacy rights and broke equalities law, South Wales police resumed trials of live facial recognition (LFR) technology (Police Professional, 16 Mar). The force said the deployments – which ran in Cardiff city centre on Sunday 19 March – were to test the system to ensure there is ‘no risk of breaching equality requirements through bias or discrimination’.
But Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price called for the prohibition of police facial recognition technology in the Welsh Assembly days later, casting doubt on the idea that the technology could overcome its ‘inbuilt racial bias’ (nation.cymru, 22 Mar).
Civil liberties campaigners are rallying against this, with the director of Big Brother Watch unexpectedly getting the chance to discuss the matter briefly with outgoing commissioner Cressida Dick during one of the Met’s LFR deployments, which resulted in a bizarre exchange.
Commenting on the incident, Silkie Carlo told the Guido Fawkes website:
‘Throughout her leadership of the Met, the Commissioner has doubled down on her failures and she’s clearly continuing this pattern to the bitter end. In my exchange with her, she failed to justify the Met’s use of Orwellian and discriminatory facial recognition technology and attempted a frankly incoherent defence of the force’s broken cameras.’
That incoherent defence casts a long shadow over a new report published by the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee (30 Mar). Referring to the Liberty and Ed Bridges’s case against South Wales police, the report recalled the government’s response to the lack of evaluation of technologies such as live facial recognition.
It seems that where the committee expects legislation to eliminate uncertainties, the report gives us the clearest indication yet that the government want to legitimise the police surveillance apparatus by the back door.
There is a precedent in Automated Number Plate Recognition: no explicit reference to the technology or legislative basis upon which its use is justified exists. But forging ahead with a defensive court-led approach on LFR tech in the aftermath of Ed Bridges’s case seems untenable. As the report says, ‘we cannot expect the Courts to set the framework for the deployment of new technologies’.
So, what is stopping the government from creating legislation on facial recognition technology? The fear of having to make the argument for facial recognition while simultaneously appealing to the nation as a protector of our civil liberties?
That is anyone’s guess. But it will likely be up to future governments to pick up the inevitable legislative mess that will result from this one avoiding the issue.
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