Communities Monitoring the Police
Policing intended to maintain and control public order is often associated with protest and political dissent, but it is invariably at its most coercive and its most aggressive on the streets and in communities that society stigmatises as “at risk of disorder”.
There is no hiding from the fact that some communities are policed differently than others in the UK based on class, gender and racial stereotypes.
Black people are over eight times more likely nationally to be stopped and searched, which rises to seventeen times in certain areas. More black people are criminalised and jailed in England and Wales proportionally than in the USA.
Recently released ‘use of force’ figures suggest a disproportionate use of force, including Taser use, against men who are black or from an ethnic minority in certain London boroughs.
For over 40 years, a network of local police monitoring groups sought to both document and challenge this kind of discriminatory policing. They helped to educate people about their individual rights, find them experienced solicitors, seek damages and make formal complaints. Some organisations were short-lived but those that flourished had established roots within the communities they served.
Unfortunately, drastically reduced funding and cuts to legal aid has meant that, at a time when there is little access to independent legal advice, almost all of these groups have now disappeared.
However, the issues they were responding to have not gone away. There is a continuing demand for something more local solicitors at a community level: there is a need too for campaigning to resist disproportionate and discriminatory policing.
A Toolkit for Police Monitoring
One of the clear lessons we have learnt from these Community Monitoring initiatives is that they are only sustainable if there are genuine structures and local participation in place on the ground – a national campaigning group like ours cannot direct it centrally.
Instead, what is essential is a robust model for community organising, backed up with mentoring to build the capacity and skills of local campaigners. Our aim is to work with a number of allies to develop an organising model into a toolkit based on solid experience and good practice.
We then want to help and encourage local campaigners to use these resources to start monitoring the police – and crucially, when they are ready, to take this further, to set up a monitoring group and connect with ongoing support.
Netpol is currently seeking funding for this project.
It takes time and energy to defend our right to freely assemble in public without facing the threat of arrest or harassment from the police – and it takes the support of people like you.