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Operation Shield condemned as racist, a form of collective punishment and likely to lead to miscarriages of justice

This is a cross-post from Netpol member London Campaign against Police & State Violence (LCAPSV)

Operation Shield is a pilot programme organised by MOPAC (the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime), together with the Metropolitan Police and local councils. It is professed aim is to target people identified as gang members, and is being tested first of all in Westminster, Haringey and Lambeth. In an article on Shield in the Evening Standard the Mayor’s spokesman stated that when one alleged gang member commits a crime, all supposed members could be issued with a court order to stop them socialising with certain people, face penalty fines, could even be sent to prison or evicted from their homes. More information about Operation Shield is available here.

The London Campaign against Police & State Violence (LCAPSV) believe it is wrong that Operation Shield includes the use of collective punishment, that is to punish others for the actions of another person, which goes against the most basic principles of justice. We have undertaken research and Freedom of Information requests to find out the detail of Shield and have now produced a briefing document (pdf_icon, 238 kB) outlining our concerns. This week, we wrote to Lambeth Council (the lead council on the pilot), MOPAC, the Chair of the Greater London Authority Police and Crime Committee and the Metropolitan Police Service in Lambeth with our briefing paper. Our core concerns are listed here and explained in further detail below:

  1. Collective punishment especially for families in social housing  – Shield can result in families paying fines or being evicted because a family member has been accused of crimes or associating with an alleged offender.
  2. Racist targeting and outcomes – The criteria used to identify “gangs” are racially biased.
  3. Miscarriages of Justice – Shield promises “fast track” justice, which will risk unfair trials and stigmatise defendants.

LCAPSV concerns on collective punishment aspect of Shield

As Shield includes non-criminal sanctions such as eviction from housing, entire families will be at risk of being punished for crimes with which they had no involvement. For example, a young person targeted by Shield might be registered at a family address where he does not currently live. His family may be threatened with eviction if that home is rented through the council, or with the loss of Housing Benefit. This is especially unfair given Shield’s use of collective punishment. Not only might that young person’s family find their home threatened, it might be over something that their family member was not even personally involved in. It is wrong to punish criminal activity with homelessness, and it is especially wrong to punish people who are not even directly involved.

LCAPSV concerns on the risks of racist targeting of Black people and racialised usage of “gang”

We also have serious doubts about the criteria Shield uses to identify “gangs” or “gang members.” There is a wide range of academic research that shows that the label of “gang member” is disproportionately applied to young black men, in a way that suggests that the institutional racism of the police operates in this area, as well as in Stop and Search. For example, the London population as a whole is around 13% black and 60% white, yet figures show that 78.2% of the people on the Metropolitan police’s list of gang members (Gang Matrix) are black, 8.7% are from other ethnic minority groups, and only 12.8% are listed as white. We believe the Metropolitan Police Service “Gang Matrix” data is highly dubious and racially biased. We are not alone in thinking this as a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, Patrick Williams has argued that “There is a dearth of reliable academic or criminal justice evidence to support the way that the police and media use the label of ‘gang’”. Given the racialised way in which the label of gang member is used, we believe the reliance on racially biased data can only produce racist outcomes resulting in disproportionately negative consequences for black people in Lambeth, especially young black men.

LCAPSV concerns on the risks of producing miscarriages of justice

In the atmosphere of moral panic that surrounds the way that gangs are described, not just in the media but also by politicians and senior police officers, there is an obvious danger of immediate stigmatisation attaching itself to anybody given the label of gang member. The MOPAC press statement on Shield says that gang-related crimes will be “fast-tracked” through the courts. In  these circumstances, we doubt that alleged gang members will be given a fair hearing. They will instead be tried by a system that already assumes them to be guilty. This concern is doubly important given our doubts about the way that supposed gang members are identified, mentioned above.

Download link to LCAPSV Briefing Paper