November 2022: Shadowy oversight
As criticism of the IOPC steadily gains traction, we turn a spotlight on 'the police’s shadowy oversight body'
Welcome to the penultimate newsletter of the year! This month in police news, we’ve seen the publication of yet another strikingly critical report on police processes and culture, Met commissioner Mark Rowley’s ongoing struggle to remove hundreds of corrupt cops from the force, and a steady build-up of criticism directed at the police watchdog, the IOPC.
Less than a month after the publication of the Casey report on the Metropolitan police’s misconduct system (covered in our October newsletter), His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published an even more damning report exposing the total failure of police recruitment and vetting systems, as well as a persistent and pervasive culture of misogyny present in ‘many – if not all – forces’ in England and Wales. According to inspectors, police had ignored ‘many warning signs’ of serious problems in their vetting and misconduct systems for more than a decade, and certain forces had ‘repeatedly failed to implement recommendations […] designed to prevent and detect [misogynistic behaviour and abuse]’. ‘It should not escape any reader of this report’, inspectors wrote, ‘that the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard came to police notice in the period leading up to her murder’. A more in-depth exploration of the report’s findings – on recruitment and vetting systems, as well as the report’s findings about police misogyny – will be up on our website soon.
Commissioner Rowley told BBC Radio 4: ‘I’ve got about 100 officers in the organisation who have very restrictive conditions on them because frankly we don’t trust them to talk to members of the public […] It’s completely mad that I have to employ people like that as police officers that you can’t trust to have contact with the public’ (Evening Standard, 24th Nov). Rowley is now calling on the Home Office to grant police chiefs greater powers ‘to move more quickly against officers we shouldn’t have [in policing]’. According to The Times, almost 200 officers in England and Wales ‘accused of the most serious level of misconduct have not been allocated disciplinary hearings and cannot be dealt with, with many of them still working on full pay’ due to a legal stalemate between the Home Office and ‘Legally Qualified Chairs’, who run the majority of hearings (The Times, 14th Nov).
This weekend (3rd and 4th December), we’ll be hosting our Rights and Wellbeing (RAW) festival at Bolney Meadow Community Centre in Vauxhall. Focusing on healing from negative police encounters, a wide range of free sessions, food, and entertainment – are on offer, including a stop and search parents’ forum with Sayce Holmes-Lewis, a know your rights workshop focusing on tech with John Pegram, and therapeutic sessions involving yoga and singing. Please do come along if you’re in London!
Topics in this newsletter include:
The usual round-up of police misconduct, violence, and general ineptitude
A look into the IOPC and their role in holding the police to account (or not)
And in Terrible Tech, two small victories…
In the spotlight: the IOPC, ‘the police’s shadowy oversight body’
What is the IOPC?
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the body responsible for overseeing the police complaints system in England and Wales, and for investigating ‘the most serious matters’ relating to police misconduct, is yet to reach its fifth birthday – having been set up in January 2018 to replace the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The IOPC website states: ‘We are independent, and make our decisions entirely independently of the police and government’. The IOPC’s function is – in theory – to hold police officers to account: to investigate, discipline, and remove cops who’ve abused their powers; to escalate misconduct cases through the criminal legal system if necessary; and to ensure a degree of investigatory independence in order to prevent police forces from marking their own homework. But just as the nation’s police forces carry the baggage of decades of scandals – from racism, to corruption, to negligence – so too does its police watchdog.
Over the last couple of months, the IOPC has faced increasing criticism on a number of fronts. As we mentioned in our August newsletter, the body was castigated for its failure to properly challenge the strip-searching of children until the issue drew attention in the media, prompting lawyer Iain Gould to ask: ‘Watchdog – or pet dog?’. More recent criticism has focused on the IOPC’s actions (and importantly, its inaction) in relation to the deaths of Chris Kaba, who was fatally shot in the head in September, and Oladeji Omishore, who fell into the Thames in June after being Tasered multiple times. Both cases involved officers from London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
In October, as the inquest into Chris’ death opened, Jefferson Bosela also said that ‘at times our family has had to chase the watchdog for information or push them to do what they should be doing already’ (INQUEST, 4th Oct). And last week, it emerged that the IOPC was ‘unable to locate’ the watch that Chris Kaba was wearing when he was shot by police officers – as confirmed by footage of the incident seen by Chris’ family (The Mirror, 23rd Nov). Chris’ cousin Jefferson Bosela, who leads the Justice for Chris Kaba campaign said: ‘How could his watch go missing? I’m disgusted and gutted. It's almost quite surreal that we have to endure the fact that we lost Chris but also the fact that we’re having to fight as well’. Chris’ funeral was held in Croydon last weekend – just days after his fiancée gave birth to their daughter (The Mirror, 26th Nov).
On Monday, the family of Oladeji Omishore announced that they are taking the IOPC to the high court in a test case (a case aiming to set a legal precedent), having met their initial legal action crowdfunding goal of £10,000. The family accuse the regulator of failing to properly investigate the two officers involved in the case, who are currently being treated as witnesses in the investigation – rather than as suspects. Deji’s father, Alfred, ‘said the IOPC’s decision to continue to treat the police who fired at his son as witnesses was “rubbing salt into the family’s wounds”’ (The Guardian, 28th Nov). Back in June, when news of Deji’s death first hit the headlines, police claimed that he had been ‘armed with a screwdriver’ when he was Tasered by officers – but later that month, it was revealed that he was carrying nothing but a cigarette lighter (The Canary, 27th June). In a Twitter thread posted by the Justice for Oladeji Omishore campaign, the family said:
Police conveniently leaving out certain crucial components of a sequence of events in order to tarnish the reputation of their victims (often unarmed Black men and their families) and to protect those within their own ranks is a familiar one: remember that it wasn’t until the inquest into the shooting of Chris Kaba opened last month that it emerged that – contrary to a statement released by the Met and the narrative circulating widely in the media – there had been no car chase in the lead-up to Chris’s death (The Mirror, 4th Oct). Officers did not activate their lights or sirens before forcing the vehicle Chris was driving to stop and then shooting him through the windscreen.
Misleading the public and the press through action or omission is not a tactic employed by the police alone: it’s one that’s been used by the IOPC – and its earlier iterations – for decades, too. As Moya Lothian-McLean points out, just think of the case of Mark Duggan, when the then-IPCC admitted it ‘may have “inadvertently” misled journalists into believing the Tottenham man had fired at police’ (The Guardian, Aug 2011).
Time for fundamental – not simply cosmetic – change
Writing for Novara Media, trainee lawyer Larry Lock asked last week: ‘Why are we still pretending this police watchdog is independent?’ (Novara Media, 21st Nov). As Lock reminds us, the Mark Duggan case was one of the reasons among many that the IPCC was dissolved and ‘reformed’ in 2018, becoming the IOPC. But it has long been obvious that this approach – rebranding the police watchdog rather than initiating any meaningful, lasting changes within it – is not enough.
Just like its three predecessors, bias, corruption, and a lack of transparency at the IOPC continue to obstruct victims and their families from achieving legal justice. In March this year, a report by the home affairs select committee found that a culture of ‘obstruction and delay’, poor communication, and ‘opaque processes’ were causing harm to complainants (The Guardian, 1st March). But with ‘virtually no other route available for holding the police accountable, victims of police conduct are forced to battle with the system as it stands’ (Novara Media, 21st Nov). Larry Lock concludes:
A system that is directly involved with all police complaints, that empowers victims of police misconduct, and that isn’t tone deaf on police racism, will require a political will the likes of which British politics probably hasn’t yet seen. Until then, it likely falls to communities themselves through police monitoring groups to fill the gaps.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
Neal Saunders, who died after being restrained by several Thames Valley police officers in 2020, told them ‘I can’t even breathe’ multiple times during the incident, bodycam footage from the inquest into his death has revealed. (The Guardian, 15th Nov)
Essex man, identity not yet confirmed
A man has died after being Tasered by officers from Essex police. The IOPC will now investigate the incident. (BBC News, 24th Nov)
East London woman, identity not yet confirmed
One person has died and another is currently in hospital after a vehicle chase initiated by Essex police officers resulted in a car crash on the A13 in east London last week. (Evening Standard, 25th Nov)
The police officers who used force against Adam Fairbrass during his arrest in 2019 ‘acted in accordance with the relevant policies and procedures’, an IOPC investigation has concluded. Adam had already been restrained by members of the public for 20 minutes prior to the officers’ arrival. He died in hospital two days later. (IOPC, 22nd Nov)
More than half of Black people searched by UK police felt humiliated, survey finds: Across all ethnicities, 49% of people who had been stopped and searched had significantly less trust in the police, compared with 65% who had not. (The Guardian, 8th Nov)
Suffolk police apologise over sex abuse victims' data on website: The published information included victims' names, addresses, dates of birth and details of the offences committed, affecting hundreds of people. (BBC News, 15th Nov)
Family of former police officer call for help for those facing domestic abuse by serving officers: The widow and daughter of Ricky Jones – who spent 26 years as an officer at Gwent police – have said they suffered years of coercive control by him but felt unable to report it to police because of his links to the force. (Sky News, 22nd Nov)
Wayne Couzens’s colleague now facing 53 offences: Charges against David Carrick, who was part of the Met’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command – the largest armed police unit in the UK, include 21 counts of rape and 9 of sexual assault. (BBC News, 24th Nov)
Child in mental health crisis lived at police station for two days, chief reveals: The teenage girl was housed in a police interview room. She needed a specialist mental health bed, but one could not be found nationally after she was detained under the mental health act after her arrest. (The Guardian, 27th Nov)
Affairs, corruption, misogyny, racism, and homophobia at Gwent police exposed via messages on former officer Ricky Jones’ mobile phone: The Welsh government will now consider calling for a national inquiry. Four officers have been suspended so far. (BBC News, 15th Nov; South Wales Argus, 29th Nov)
Section 60 watch*
Greenwich (27 Nov)
Basildon (23 Nov)
Reigate and Banstead (25 Nov)
Basingstoke (13 Nov), Southampton (19 Nov)
Walsall (29 Nov)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Meta vs the Met
This month, the ‘supreme court’ of Meta ruled that Instagram should not have complied with the Metropolitan police’s requests to remove a drill music clip on the platform. Meta’s oversight board argued that the track in question – Secrets Not Safe by Chinx (OS) – does not contravene any of Instagram’s rules, and ‘basic principles of free speech, equality and transparency were breached in allowing a police operation to censor a musician in secret’ (The Guardian, 22nd Nov). The board also noted that ‘[t]his intensive focus on one music genre among many that include reference to violence raises serious concerns of potential over-policing of certain communities’. Let that be a lesson to the BBC the next time the Met ‘expresses a view’ on their radio stations’ playlists…
It also emerged last week that the Met is now monitoring Chinx’s lyrics – and as part of his licence conditions, the force has ordered the rapper to submit all new song lyrics to the police and probation service within 24 hours of a new track’s release. ‘The police contend that, rather than overpolicing a form of music enjoyed predominantly by young Black men, they are trying to keep them safe’ – yeah, we’ve heard that one before (The Guardian, 25th Nov). It’s really got to hurt when you’re being scolded on a point of ethics by Meta…
Rowley commits to the ‘complete redesign’ of the gangs violence matrix
Following a successful legal challenge from Liberty and Unjust, the Met have said it will overhaul its controversial and deeply racist gangs matrix – agreeing to remove the majority of individuals from the database. Liberty’s legal challenge came after the Met took two years to respond to musician Awate Suleiman’s request to know if he was on the list. In 2017, there were 3,881 individuals on the database, with Black people vastly overrepresented. ‘Liberty is encouraging people who think they have experienced “over-policing”, such as undergoing repeated stop and search procedures, to find out if they are or were ever on the matrix’ (BBC News, 12th Nov).
Despite his commitment to the overhaul of the database, commissioner Mark Rowley defended the use of data-led tools in policing, claiming that ‘improvements in statistical methods and technologies’ should be taken into account in the matrix’s redesign. It’s rare, though, that ‘improvements’ in police tech ever translate into improved outcomes in terms of justice or fairness, especially for communities of colour.
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