London police ‘gangs matrix’ database under investigation for racial profiling

9 May 2018

Three London police officers. Image: Chris Dorney/Shutterstock

Amnesty International claims a database used by UK police unfairly targets black men and other minorities.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK is in contact with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) following the publication of a damning report from Amnesty International, which said a database of about 3,800 individuals linked to gang violence stigmatises young black men.

According to the Amnesty report, the gang violence matrix allegedly violates the human rights of those who appear on it. The MPS uses the database to try and identify gang members, and claims it has helped thwart attacks and violence on the streets.

Problems with the matrix

Future Human

The report found that the database, which was set up after the 2011 London riots, tracked a disproportionate number of minorities. The matrix also tracked 1,500 individuals who police had determined posed no danger of committing violent acts.

78pc of the people on the database were black, according to figures from July 2016. Police figures say 27pc of young people prosecuted for violent offences are black. Approximately 13pc of the population of London is black.

The matrix uses information including history of violent crimes, social media posts and local council details to identify people for the database. Around 40pc of those on the database have a ‘harm score’ of zero, calculated based on the information listed.

Amnesty claimed that appearing on the list harms people’s chances of accessing employment services, as well as housing and education. In London, 5pc of those on the list were in the red category (the highest risk of committing violence) while 64pc of those listed on the database were in the green zone (the lowest risk).

Database will not solve the problem

Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “There is clearly a huge problem with knife crime violence at the moment in London, but the gangs matrix is not the answer.

“The entire system is racially discriminatory, stigmatising young black men for the type of music they listen to or their social media behaviour, and perpetuating racial bias with potential impacts in all sorts of areas of their lives.” Amnesty said the database does not address the underlying issues causing street violence and is instead an extension of the Conservative government response to the 2011 riots.

The youngest person on the list was aged 12 and his criminal record came back clean after applying for a job later in life, but he remained on the matrix for an incident that happened when he was not even a teenager.

According to the report, police have even been known to set up fake online profiles and covertly befriend people to monitor them, a practice that is in breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Arbitrary criminalisation

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham in north London, said: “Why are so many young black men and minors being arbitrarily criminalised in this way when they have not committed a violent or serious offence?”

The MPS said: “The style of music that someone listens to has no bearing on whether someone is placed on the matrix. However, evidence that someone is glorifying gang violence in a music video posted on social media can be used as an intelligence source.

“In relation to suggestions of potential racial disproportionality of the matrix, the MPS has actively engaged with David Lammy MP, Amnesty International and the Information Commissioner’s office to help understand the approach taken, and we remain committed to ensuring the safety of all Londoners, and especially those most at risk from gang and other violent crimes.”

Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham police are said to collect similar intelligence.

Three London police officers. Image: Chris Dorney/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects