September 2020: Show us the tapes

Home secretary finally agrees with our call for the police to release body cam footage of stop and search incidents to the public... albeit not for the same reasons

Dear StopWatchers,

Like the weather, tensions between overpoliced communities and the force have cooled down somewhat since the summer. But StopWatch have still had plenty to do:

We attended a meeting about stop and search hosted by Dawn Butler MP, and including the Met Police, alongside Liberty, Release, and Brent stop and search Community Monitoring Group Community stakeholders.

We are glad to have contributed to today's stop and search meeting in Brent hosted by @dawnbutlerbrent. Addressing the issue of unrecorded stops and the ongoing ethnic disparities are key priorities for us at StopWatch. Read our joint report with @libertyhq called Driving While Black
September 14, 2020

Our chief executive Katrina Ffrench presented recommendations from our joint report with Liberty – Driving While Black – the possibilities of were explored on a local level, according to the Met’s representatives.

Our Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator, Neal Brown, who has been with StopWatch for six months now, is leading a collaboration with Flicker Productions over the prospect of producing a video about stop and search. We are looking for people to share their experiences on camera. If you would like to participate, please contact Neal at neal@stop-watch.org.

Topics in this newsletter include:

  • Transparency in policing – home secretary calls for footage of stops to be made publicly available

  • Less legitimate suspicion, more stereotyping? – Home Office also seeks consultation on introducing serious violence reduction orders (SVROs) to search ex-knife offenders without suspicion (you can sign a petition to protest this)

  • Cycling While Black – Police watchdog upholds stop and search complaint from Black Cyclists Network founder

  • Browsing While Brown – Police pin down man of ‘British Pakistani heritage’ for exiting a Pret a Manger

  • COVID fine hypocrisy – More evidence surfaces of young men from black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities facing a ‘disproportionate impact’ of police enforcement of the ‘unclear and ambiguous’ Coronavirus Act regulations

  • In Terrible tech, algorithms used by law enforcement are not trusted by almost nine in ten people, according to a survey.

  • Compelling essay on why there should be No Police in Schools and a video from Dwayne Francis on the inherently racist nature of drugs policing

Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.


Transparency in policing

Top officers have acknowledged that they are losing legitimacy among the ethnic minorities they serve, because many believe ‘they are biased against them’ (Guardian, 08 Sep).

Addressing the virtual annual conference of superintendents, the association’s president Paul Griffiths said:

Our workforce is not representative of our communities and our services are not being delivered with legitimacy when it comes to ethnicity.

He also spoke of ‘an urgent need to “redesign policing”, which was still disproportionately white’.

Such interventions seem to occur so rarely, they are worth flagging as moments when the police might seem aware of – and ready to do something about – the injustices they commit against civilians in the name of fairer policing.

The superintendent’s comments stand in stark contrast to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick’s refusal to face up to the scale of racist policing in her force. So insistent are her denials of systemic wrongdoing in the force that activists took to the capital’s streets to call for her resignation (Guardian, 12 Sep).

At the heart of the activists’ grievances was a desire for greater accountability. Accountability is an indispensable component of fair policing, and transparent processes are key to demonstrating how police work can be held accountable. In this sense, it was good news to hear that home secretary Priti Patel had written to Mark Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, ‘backing a campaign to release police body-worn video cameras’ (Daily Mail, 12 Sep).

Of course, Patel’s first instinct is to protect officers from ‘unfair criticism’ on social media, rather than seek justice for everyone in all situations. Interviewed in Police Magazine, she framed the proposal as something that could be used to halt the ‘vilification of officers’ (Politics Live, 01 Sep).

However, the home secretary’s proposed end goal does still chime with our insistence that body-worn video camera footage must be made publicly available for scrutiny.

The question of police transparency is an international one, as one journalist’s story has shown (Guardian, 03 Sep). Valentin Gendrot infiltrated a Parisian police force upon where he found a culture rife with racist, homophobic and chauvinist comments and displays of violence in which officers ‘act with impunity’ by closing ranks and falsifying evidence in the face of complaints from members of the public.

Gendrot also observed how the pressures of policing led to high levels of depression. In 2019, 59 police officers killed themselves in France, a 60% rise on the previous year.

Ultimately, opening police processes to greater scrutiny can increase civilians’ trust in the force, and making body worn cameras available is one of those moves that would help to achieve this aim. The home secretary believes police officers would be better served by making camera footage openly available. The truth is, everyone will.


Less legitimate suspicion, more stereotyping?

In the early hours of Friday 25 September, long-serving police officer Matiu Ratana was killed in tragic circumstances – shot in Croydon police station custody suite by a handcuffed detainee during a search (Guardian, 25 Sep).

The fatal incident has had the effect of strengthening calls for tougher stop and search rules. One officer told the Guardian (26 Sep):

The police get accused of being over-intrusive on the street, so they handcuff people to make them safe, bring them back to custody where a more detailed search can be carried out. That process probably now needs to change.

However, this is an odd call on two counts: 1) The unusual nature of the fatal incident at Croydon police station rather proves the rarity of searches ending in such an unfortunate fashion; and 2) INQUEST figures show that far more civilians have been unlawfully killed either by police officers’ gunshots or in custody suites, so any change in station search protocol surely ought to take that into account first?

Meanwhile, ministers continue to act as though stop and search is a panacea to all community policing, launching a public consultation on the use of serious violence reduction orders (SVROs) for those previously convicted of carrying a knife or an offensive weapon (Guardian, 14 Sep). It would ultimately allow police to ‘repeatedly check people previously convicted of carrying a knife without suspicion they are committing a fresh offence’.

It is obvious that this proposal will exacerbate the risk of searches conducted by stereotype rather than a legitimate, intelligence-led suspicion.

And use of the order covering a concentrated area over even a short duration may have a deleterious impact on a community’s trust in the police. It’s a tale written too often in the past, as Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry noted:

In my experience of policies like the Gangs Matrix, there is no doubt at all that this new idea - to mark some people for routine and repeated searches - would further stoke disproportion, tension and victimisation.

We urge people to:

  • respond to the Home Office consultation to make their feelings known on the proposal before the 08 November deadline

  • sign the petition demanding the plans to expand police stop and search powers are scrapped.


In other news…

Cycling While Black

Founder of the Black Cyclists Network Mani Arthur has had his stop and search complaint against the Metropolitan Police upheld by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (10 Sep).

The police watchdog found the grounds for the search – conducted in November 2019 under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act – were not reasonable as the use of the smell of cannabis as a single ground is ‘not good practice’ as set out in the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice on stop and search.

A second – just as flimsy – ground, later provided by the officer who searched Arthur, was that he was ‘concerned Mr Arthur was disagreeing with him over his cycle being over the white line at traffic lights as a way to distract him from the smell if he was in possession of cannabis’. In other words, Cycling While Black.

Arthur told the BBC that the stop felt ‘humiliating’ and ‘degrading’.

However, the IOPC did not uphold the complaint in respect of discriminatory behaviour, as a review of the main officer’s previous stop and search records ‘suggested he used the single ground of the smell of cannabis to stop and search people of all ethnicities and genders’.

The watchdog recommended the officer involved receive ‘reflective practice’, with a focus on constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’ for stop and search, ‘particularly relating to the smell of cannabis.’

Browsing While Brown

At London Waterloo station, a man described as being of ‘British Pakistani heritage’ was ‘stopped and accused of “being evasive” as he travelled through the station on his way from his customer support job on Friday evening’ (London Evening Standard, 06 Sep). Having entered and exited a Pret a Manger store without buying anything, he was confronted by police.

After refusing to give officers his address – as is his right – the man says he was handcuffed and wrestled to the ground as he pleaded to passers-by for help.

COVID fine hypocrisy

As the pandemic still lurks, so does the draconian Coronavirus Act, and the racially disproportionate threat of punishment from the police for those of minority ethnic backgrounds (Eastern Eye, 21 Sep).

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said it was ‘unacceptable’ that ‘many thousands’ of Britons were being issued fixed penalty notices ‘despite evidence the police did not fully understand their powers’, and that young men from black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities were facing a ‘disproportionate impact’ of police enforcement of these ‘unclear and ambiguous’ regulations.

For example, the fact that the Police Service of Northern Ireland issued no fines to crowds protesting against the COVID-19 restrictions in Belfast on Saturday 26 September, while several Black, Asian and minority ethnic people still face the prospect of serious criminal charges in connection with a peaceful and socially-distanced Black Lives Matter demonstration held in June appears to be a blatant double-standard that cannot be tolerated (Irish News, 29 Sep), as lawyer Adekanmi Abayomi observed:

How can the police be saying they are being consistent with the law when everyone can see that they are not? They are applying the law in a different way – when it is one case with our issue – to when it's a case with another set of people?

It is instances such as these that have led StopWatch to be a signatory to Liberty’s open letter to government calling for the Coronavirus Act to be scrapped.


Terrible tech – facial recognition commands little trust

Most UK adults say they do not trust algorithms – according to a YouGov survey, the police are trusted on their use of algorithms by only 11% of the population (ResearchLive, 08 Sep).

Yet, the onward march of law enforcement facial recognition tech goes on. For all of the triumph of the recent ruling that judged automatic facial recognition technology by South Wales Police to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, a rather more pessimistic reading of the case suggests that their use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) was unlawful ‘only in a very limited way’, and that interference with complainant Ed Bridges’ privacy rights was ‘small and far outweighed by the perceived benefit to the public of AFR’s use in policing’ (Justice Gap, 03 Sep).

Furthermore, the Met Police’s response suggests that they believe has no bearing on their surveillance activities.

However, yet another survey of the public suggests they believe different. An IFSEC International-commissioned poll asked if facial recognition technology is currently equipped to account for diversity – 34% said ‘no’ – and whether there needs to be better regulation to prevent misuse from potential racial bias, with which 82% agreed (IFSEC Global, 17 Sep).

Unfortunately, the care and caution needed to preserve individual liberties in using the technology are diametrically opposed to the aims of law enforcement, because their default position is to try to create exemptions for themselves, for the purpose of ‘catching criminals’.

Author of the IFSEC article Gerry Dunphy recognises this, calling for a pause in the use of surveillance technology where ‘any discrepancy’ arises.

He writes: ‘It’s critical we remember this is a human rights issue, and we cannot risk the possibility of a single wrongful arrest or imprisonment as a result of flawed technology or processes.’


Section 60 watch*

London

Ealing (16, 24 Sep), Hackney (26 Sep), Hillingdon (16, 24 Sep), Hounslow (16, 24 Sep), Stockwell (15 Sep)

Thames Valley Constabulary

South and west Reading (14 Sep)

* This is not a comprehensive list

Scrap Section 60 – bill reading moves to October

The private members’ bill debate to repeal Section 60 stop and search has been delayed to 16 October. In the meantime, you can sign this petition to scrap Section 60.


No Police in Schools

For all the problems with street policing, the systemic biases in law enforcement are at their most insidious when embedded so deeply in societies that they become normalised.

There are very few professions on domestic soil that bring both workers and contacts into such close and regular contact with the potential use of force. So the presence of police officer patrolling schools seems a strikingly odd scenario, one that appears to pride enforcing power over individuals rather than maintaining a happy peace for all.

The excellent Guardian article from school teacher Vik Chechi-Ribeiro highlights the implications of ‘school-based police officers’, or SBPOs, an almost 20-year experiment that has only really achieved the first half of New Labour’s famous ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ slogan at best, but served to entrench racist stereotypes that risk writing off lives from childhood (05 Sep). As Chechi-Ribeiro writes:

The racist nature of policing and the criminal justice system extends to the UK’s schools, where black students are more likely to be excluded from school, receive under-predicted grades and be targeted by punitive behavioural and uniform policies.
For years, “school-based police officers”have harmonised policing and education and posed a significant risk to black students. Their duties include dealing with pupil behaviour, advising on policies and patrolling the school site.

Follow the link to find out more about the No Police in Schools campaign.


Dwayne’s story


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 like to thank all those who donated to our GoFundMe summer campaign, which raised £117,861 (at the time of writing). However, we still have a long way to go to tackle discriminatory policing, so we will be launching a new fundraiser in the coming months – watch this space.

In the meantime, we’d love for you to continue to help us; any financial assistance you can provide is greatly appreciated and supports us to become more sustainable.

We’d also appreciate one-off or regular donations via standing order. Bank details are:

CAF Bank – Registered office: CAF Bank Ltd, 25 Kings Hill Avenue, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4JQ

Account Name: StopWatch | Sort Code: 40-52-40 | Account Number: 00027415

Stay safe,

StopWatch.