The report into the policing of the August riots, ‘Four Days in August’ released today, shows that the Met has, once again, failed to take the opportunity to critically evaluate the way in which it polices inner-city communities. There is no assessment of use of ‘section 60’ stop and searches and other policing tactics that have created mistrust and resentment of the police among young people. Instead, the emphasis is on the need for ‘robust’ policing, militarisation and ever-more invasive surveillance.
They key points of this report, we believe, are these:
1. The role of stop and search: The report fails to properly address the crucial issue of stop and search. Where it is mentioned, the language used in the report reinforces the view that many campaigners have frequently put forward – that stop and search is being used to criminalise young people. At one point it states that those arrested in relation to the riots were ‘generally known to police in one way or another such as through previous offending, gang involvement or a history of being stopped and searched’. The language used clearly indicates that having a ‘history of being stopped and searched’, is seen by the Met as evidence of criminality in the same way as previous offending. Nowhere in the report is there any awareness that, for many young people, stop and search is a regular and unavoidable part of life in inner city estates. Nor does it accept the possibility that being subject to repeated stop and search could itself have been a significant motivation for involvement in disorder.
2. The need for more ‘robust policing: This report indicates there has been a watershed in police attitudes to public order events, and a decisive move towards more ‘robust’ and aggressive policing. It states that public concerns of ‘a heavy handed approach by officers’ in the aftermath of the G20 protest affected ‘the mindset of police officers’ and ‘the confidence of some officers engaged in public order scenarios’. It goes on to stress the importance of making sure staff feel ‘that they will be supported’ in relation to their actions in public order scenarios.
3. Militarisation: As has been well reported, the capacity to deploy plastic bullets and water cannon has been increased, the use of tasers in public order situations has been mooted, as well as the use of CS gas. We consider that the justification for this is unclear, particularly as one of the key reasons for not deploying plastic bullets in August was the ‘speed and agility’ of the rioters, rendering the use of these weapons unfeasible.
4. Increased surveillance capacity: The report shows that there have been significant developments in surveillance and the handling of digital imagery and intelligence that have implications well beyond their use in riot situations. The report references the procurement of, amongst other things, a central image handling capability, the ‘development and exploitation of automatic facial recognition systems’, as well as ‘the upgrade of the integration of local authority CCTV systems into Central Communication Command (CCC) centres.’ The civil liberties implications of these enhanced surveillance capabilities are not discussed.
5. Public Order Intelligence Gathering: The riots have been used to justify an increased capacity in public order intelligence gathering which is also being deployed in other situations, including preparations for the Olympics and public protest. The report states, “the MPS has now begun its work to create a cadre of trained, accredited officers who specialise in the role of Bronze Intelligence within the Operational Command Team for public order events. Training for these identified officers is being devised with specific regard to being prepared for the forthcoming Olympic Games.” These officers were apparently deployed on the student and public sector demonstrations of the 9th and 30th November which trialled ‘the use of a developed intelligence system for providing a more professionalised public order intelligence capability.’
The Tottenham Defence Campaign has criticised this report as a ‘whitewash’. Stafford Scott from the campaign has said,
“After a long delay in publication, the MPS report does little to build the community trust it speaks of wishing to develop. The police made a series of mistakes in ignoring a specific warning of growing tensions and advice from people in the community around communicating with those gathered outside Tottenham police station and most importantly Mark Duggan’s family. This report evades taking full responsibility for these errors, whitewashes events and instead seeks to push blame onto the community. Until the MPS fully accept their failings they will be unable to truly learn the lessons that they claim were the purpose of this report’s investigation”
We agree. The Met routinely act unlawfully in their treatment of young people, particularly in their use of s60 stop and searches, and there is significant evidence of discrimination against black and minority ethnic communities. They should not be able to continually evade responsibility for their own criminality.