September 2021: 2 more years of Dick
Met chief gets contract extension for her 'ethical, courageous and highly competent' leadership; we launch our Rights And Wellbeing project with an online summit
We’ve had another testing month, what with a certain police boss getting a contract extension for all her hard work in ensuring her force continues to terrorise marginalised and vulnerable communities in many and novel ways.
But as the Tottenham Rights exhibition at ICA London has shown, the stories of overpoliced communities continued to be heard. And our #RightsAndWellbeing online summit (RAW) held on 23 to 25 September offered a glimpse into how we can try to help people use therapeutic means in order to help themselves heal from the traumatic effects of stop and search encounters.
One of the attendees, Sydney Kirton, wrote of RAW:
I’ve attended many lectures in my life, especially since the pandemic, a numerous number of organisations have tried to achieve similar ways of learning and promoting their companies but StopWatch found exactly what I was looking for. I got to spend my final moments of spare time valuably well, before completing my final year of my master’s degree. Thank you for connecting me to people from all walks of life, with all kinds of knowledge and kindness.
In other news, we are excited to begin our 18-month national research project into girls and young women’s experiences of stop and search. This project will be led by a team of girls who we have trained in partnership with Dr Louise Owusu-Kwarteng, who leads the faculty office of undergraduate research and enterprise at Greenwich University. Our research will give a voice to young women who are often left out of the conversation about stop and search, but have stories that need to be heard! If you are interested in taking part in this research, please contact our youth voice and participation lead research coordinator Shenna Darcheville (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Topics in this newsletter include:
Londoners get 2 extra years of Cressida Dick as their police chief
The Police Federation of England and Wales lobby peers in the House of Lords for legislation that will force the overall regulator to set a deadline for complaint cases made against their officers
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) wants the House of Lords to slip an amendment into the current policing bill that will require their regulator to impose a deadline on cases made against them
INQUEST criticise the government’s latest Progress Update on the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody (the Angiolini Review)
In Terrible tech, the Met go all in for a little RFR
And we warn about the dangers of stop and account in light of the Sarah Everard case
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
2 more years of Dick: Met chief awarded chance to lead country’s biggest police force till 2024
Dame Cressida Dick will serve an extra two years as Metropolitan police commissioner, BBC News reports (10 Sep).
An ‘honoured and humbled’ Dick thanked the mayor, the home secretary and the prime minister ‘for the confidence they have shown in me’, although other reports suggested that the top chief’s extension was less an endorsement of her time in office and more to do with the home secretary in particular not liking the look of possible replacements (Guardian, 10 Sep).
Whether a beacon of excellence or the favourite in a one-horse race, the Metropolitan police federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in the London force, supported the decision to extended Dick’s contract, with chair Ken Marsh declaring that she was ‘doing a good job in difficult circumstances, and that ‘it is easy to comment and criticise from the side-lines’.
And we do, but only because she made it so easy. Why else would such a disparate group of personalities come together to write a letter urging the prime minister to reverse the decision (Daily Mail, 08 Sep)?
They argued that the commissioner had already failed to do enough to combat the mounting allegations of corruption, racism, misogyny, incompetence, and malpractice, and so should step down when her initial term ends.
And from our perspective, her handling of stop and search in the capital is a well-documented disaster, for it has expanded on her watch under the erroneous claim that it would drive down violent crime, which precipitated a loss of confidence in the force among marginalised communities in the capital.
But the dearth of alternatives available ensures Dick stays for now, ultimately staving off the question of who might her replacement be for the next government, and whether it makes any difference anyway.
That said, we look forward to spending a couple more years than expected meeting with her regularly so we can build the case for an about-turn in the Met’s stop and search strategy – oh, wait…
More powers for them, less justice for us
As the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill trundles across parliament, attracting amendments into the winter months like a political snowball, so the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) have spotted an opportunity to place a deadline on their accountability to the public (Police Professional, 09 Sep). This is phrased as lobbying House of Lords members to make ‘a change in the law that would rein in lengthy and damaging police disciplinary investigations’.
As a result of the campaign, ‘the Home Office has added a clause to the regulations which means the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), or appropriate authority, has to give an explanation to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) as to why the investigation has hit the year mark.’
There are no sanctions attached to the clause, as of now. But we’d be weary of politicians adding them. In the meantime, the PFEW want to slip in an amendment, ‘which would see a legally qualified person – who usually sits as a chair at disciplinary hearings – look at the investigation from the 12-month point to determine if the length of time is rational and set a reasonable deadline for the investigation to be concluded by.’
PFEW conduct and performance lead Phill Matthews said: ‘It’s not right for our members who are still suffering the mental trauma of waiting to find out their fate, and unfair for those victims who deserve closure.’
We would all like justice to be delivered fairly and swiftly. However, the experience of many victims of miscarriages of justice from police wrongdoing is that the only closure of worth is that which comes from justice being served, a justice too often delayed by the police themselves during cases involving allegations of misconduct.
Matthews knows that if more than 12 months have passed between the incident (or latest incident) and the date of a complaint to the IOPC, then ‘the appropriate authority may not investigate it’. Perhaps then, it might help speed up cases if forces were compelled to meet deadlines for submitting evidence or face penalties.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
Kelly Hartigan Burns
A 3-week hearing into Lancashire police misconduct surrounding the death of Kelly Hartigan Burns began on Monday 27 September 2021 (INQUEST, 24 Sep).
Officers were initially alerted to Hartigan-Burns by members of the public on 03 December 2016 and escorted her home attended and took her home. However, instead of being detained under mental health powers, she was arrested for common assault and taken to Greenbank Police Station in Blackburn. Kelly Hartigan-Burns was later found unresponsive in one of the cells, having self-ligatured. She was taken to hospital and put on life support, but was pronounced dead on 05 December 2016.
An inquest into Kelly’s death is scheduled for early 2022, 6 years after her death.
The IOPC is independently investigating the death of a 38-year-old man in police custody in Leyton, east London, who was detained after being approached by officers at around 5:30pm on Saturday 04 September and taken to Leyton Custody Suite (IOPC, 27 Sep).
Shortly after arrival, the man became unwell and then unresponsive. Officers called for an ambulance and began resuscitation efforts prior to the arrival of paramedics, but the man was pronounced dead soon after 8pm.
The watchdog has sent investigators to the custody suite and to the post-incident procedures, where the officers involved provided their initial accounts. Investigators are also gathering relevant information for review, including CCTV and body-worn video footage.
On Angiolini’s review of deaths in police custody
INQUEST, 07 Sep
The number of people dying in and following police custody is at the same level as it has been over the past decade and the use of force by officers has increased, despite the government recently claiming it has made ‘significant progress’ in preventing deaths in custody.
In its latest Progress Update on the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, known as the Angiolini Review, the government state that of the 110 recommendations it has delivered 65, while a further 20 are delivered in part and 12 rejected (13 further recommendations are not mentioned at all).
The recommendations, made in 2017 by Dame Elish Angiolini QC, for improving the way police and health authorities in England and Wales respond to people with mental ill health, included how the IOPC and others respond to these deaths.
A key aim of the review was to address dangerous use of police force and restraint against people in mental health crisis. Other recommendations included ensuring that IOPC investigators consider if discriminatory attitudes play a part in restraint-related deaths, addressing the issue of racism highlighted by many bereaved families.
The government say ‘significant progress’ has been made in response to the review. However, no mention is made of the fact that the number of deaths in or following police custody has remained at a similar level for the past 10 years.
West Midlands police officer charged with ABH: A serving West Midlands Police officer was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm following an investigation by the IOPC into an incident in the Handsworth area of Birmingham on 27 February 2020, in which a TASER was used (06 Sep).
After careful consideration of the evidence, the IOPC referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, which authorised the ABH charge against constable Declan Jones. Jones is due to appear at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 05 October.
Hundreds of reasons why the PCSC Bill is no good: More than 600 experts in a range of professions including health, social work, and education have written to the home secretary over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as it is being debated at committee stage in the House of Lords (Guardian, 13 Sep). They warn that the Bill risks deepening racial and gender disparities in the justice system.
Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said the Bill would ‘lead to harassment and oppressive monitoring of young people, working-class people and people of colour, especially Black people’ and funnel more people into the criminal punishment system.
A threat to public safety: A new report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) and Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) suggests that policing during the COVID-19 pandemic undermines public health measures whilst disproportionately targeting Black and Minority Ethnic communities (13 Sep).
70-year-old launches complaint over police maltreatment: Yet another car stop of a Black person ends in a case involving allegations of excessive force by the police (Metro UK, 17 Sep).
Reports of the incident surfaced on Instagram that a 70-year-old suffered a broken nose, cheekbone, and eye socket, and deep cuts to his head following a stop over a faulty brake light in Bromley, south east London. The incident has since been referred to the IOPC.
Slow take-off for KCPO pilot: ITV News reports that the first 10 weeks of the Met police’s 14-month trial of Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) has so far brought 2 court orders (20 Sep). Figures obtained by the PA news agency under freedom of information laws show 2 orders were applied for in the first 6 weeks, but both were turned down by magistrates. They subsequently brought 2 successful court actions while ‘learning was identified’ about the process of application process.
Furthermore, the KCPO lead at the time of the pilot’s launch, commander Ade Adelekan is no longer in charge of the scheme. Speaking on 07 July, Adelekan described fears over racial profiling as ‘a valid question to ask’, and said the force had carried out an equalities impact assessment which will be continually reviewed.
He added: ‘If this (pilot) really does work then I suggest we need to evaluate this properly as to why it does work, but if it doesn’t work also I think we need to stop it fairly quickly.’
Police choke child over comb: Body worn camera footage of a Met police officer choking a 13-year-old during a stop-and-search in south London went viral on social media (Metro UK, 20 Sep).
A group of officers swarmed Benjamin Olajive in response to a report of a Black person with a knife, which turned out to be an afro comb. The schoolboy – who has ADHD and PTSD – was put in handcuffs while 5 officers search his clothes and backpack for a weapon. According to witness statements, the stop and search lasted about 45 minutes, during which the boy was handcuffed, and there was a fracas between the officers and passers-by over his treatment.
Olajive was then put in a van and taken to Brixton police station, before being released. He also obtained a badly swollen left eye in the process.
Watchdog finds man was racially profiled: School support worker Dwayne Francis welcomes the findings of a police watchdog investigation in which he was racially profiled (ITV News London, 21 Sep). The 3 Met police officers who searched his car for drugs while he waited outside a post office in Lewisham (they found nothing) will now face a gross misconduct hearing to see whether they breached ‘standards of professional behaviour for honesty and integrity’. Dwayne told reporters that it was a ‘positive step in the right direction’ that showed the complaints process can work.
‘Blunt Force’ report published: Amnesty International calls on governments to stop the unlawful use of police batons by law enforcement officials. The research finds that although batons are considered a less lethal weapon intended to allow law enforcement officials to avoid having to use more harmful weapons, they are frequently misused, often to punitively cause harm in violation of international law.
Despite this, the trade in batons is unregulated.
Softer punishments for hard drugs: Possession of Class A drugs may incur a police warning rather than prosecution under a new ‘diversion from prosecution’ policy for drugs announced by the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC (Scottish Legal News, 23 Sep).
Police will retain the ability to report cases of possession to the procurator fiscal and accused persons may still reject the offer of a warning, though. Ms Bain was at pains to state that ‘recorded police warnings do not represent decriminalisation of an offence’, but ‘a proportionate criminal justice response to a level of offending and are an enforcement of the law’.
Some experts also warned that this move may lead to an increase in the number of offences and unsuccessful searches.
Section 60 watch*
Lambeth (25 Sep), Tower Hamlets (15, 24 Sep)
Sutton Coldfield (29 Sep)
Wyre (27 Sep)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: Met looks back with new facial recognition tool
WIRED magazine reports that ‘the UK’s biggest police force is set to significantly expand its facial recognition capabilities before the end of this year’ (27 Sep):
New technology will enable London’s Metropolitan police to process historic images from CCTV feeds, social media and other sources in a bid to track down suspects.
But critics warn the technology has ‘eye-watering possibilities for abuse’ and may entrench discriminatory policing. And if you are thinking ‘wasn’t there a court case where another police force were told to consider the privacy, data protection, and equality implications of facial recognition systems?’, then you’d be correct. But the Met, like all other police forces currently purchasing facial recognition tech, either believes the court ruling does not apply to them or they have it covered.
Of course, another problem with so-called smart tech solutions is that the ethics never keeps up with improvements in the software / hardware. In other words, while we are kept in the dark about whether any police force truly has the safeguards in place to manage such technology, new iterations of facial rec tech can be used in a ‘retrospective’ manner:
The proposal says that in the coming months the Met will start using Retrospective Facial Recognition (RFR), as part of a £3 million, four-year deal with Japanese tech firm NEC Corporation. The system examines images of people obtained by the police before comparing them against the force’s internal image database to try and find a match.
RFR is already used by 6 police forces in England and Wales. WIRED also note that the London Policing Ethics Panel, ‘an independent scrutiny group set up by the Mayor’s office’, has been tasked with reviewing and advising the Met on its use of the RFR. We don’t know if this included them advising if the Met should purchase the tech in the first place, but it certainly didn’t include making the force complete a data protection impact assessment.
Must be too trivial for the Met to do such a thing. After all, ‘this is clearly an important policing tool,’ said a spokesperson for the mayor of London… and every police apologist about every policing tactic ever. But it’s not important enough to be enshrined in UK law through primary legislation, somehow? In the article, Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo pointed out that in light of the obvious potential of false positives from the tech (in the United States, people have been wrongly jailed because of RFR), ‘we need to have a wider public conversation and strict safeguards are vital before even contemplating an extreme technology like this’, but that the capital’s mayor ‘has continued to support expensive, pointless and rights-abusive police technologies.’
It appears both our political class and law enforcement institutions would sooner abuse our civil liberties rights to the point that our privacy is annihilated. And all in the name of ‘fighting crime’. Turns out it’s not only Facebook who like to move fast and break things.
In light of the details of Sarah Everard’s murder that emerged from the trial of former police constable Wayne Couzens, our thoughts are with her family, and everyone who has been subjected is to police abuses of power in public.
The court learnt that although Couzens was off-duty, he used the coronavirus restrictions to kidnap her.
This concerns us, as we know that for most people a stop and account is the entry point for a police officer to speak to you on the street. Remember, you are in no way obliged to talk to a police officer or anyone else if you do not wish to. You are entitled to walk away from them, and they ought to respect your rights, especially if they have no grounds to command your attention. And if the encounter becomes a search, always ask under what power they wish to interrogate and search you. At the very least, a law abiding officer would knows they owe you this.
But, like Couzens, many officers abuse the law in the pursuit of their own power. Worse still, an investigation by Byline Times found that more than half of the Metropolitan police officers found guilty of sexual misconduct (the victims were overwhelmingly female) over a 4-year period to 2020 kept their jobs, revealing the extent to which the capital’s police officers work in a culture of impunity around their treatment of women (20 Sep). And this year our government passed a Bill guaranteeing that undercover officers can commit the same heinous act as Couzens – and other crimes – with total impunity.
Not that they needed it, as the long-running spycops tribunal would suggest (30 Sep):
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal today handed down its ruling in Kate Wilson’s epic ten-year legal battle over the use of undercover police against protest movements. The detailed, ground-breaking, 156-page ruling identified a “formidable list” of breaches of fundamental human rights by the Metropolitan police without lawful justification in a democratic society.
Despite this, many of the undercover operatives involved are still unknown to us. Some who are known have gone on to hold prominent positions on city councils.
This is why the launch of CopWatch patrol groups across the country by Sisters Uncut, with the aim of intervening in ‘every stop and search, every arrest, every kidnapping’ is so important.
We would encourage anyone reading this to help their cause in any way you can, because, as they say, ‘the police don’t keep us safe: we keep us safe’.
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