Amnesty International: ‘Racially Discriminatory’ Police Gang Matrix in Breach of Human Rights

In a damning report human rights charity, Amnesty International, has hit out at Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service for their ‘racially discriminatory’ gang database. The report, which was focused on the secrecy, stigma, and bias in the police service, raised concerns about the ‘Gangs Matrix’ which was found to be targeting London’s black population and in violation of both data protection and human rights.

Launched in 2012, as a direct response to 2011’s London riots, the Matrix was started with the aim of combatting gang violence; however Amnesty International has said “there is clearly a huge problem with knife crime violence at the moment in London, but the Gangs Matrix is not the answer.

“It’s part of an unhelpful and racialised focus on the concept of gangs. Put simply, it’s the wrong tool for the wrong problem.The Mayor of London needs to dismantle the Matrix unless he can bring it in line with international human rights standards.”

Gangs are, for the most part, a complete red herring… fixation with the term is unhelpful at every level…

It was argued that the Matrix perpetuated racial bias; listing those who pose no risk because of their ethnicity means that actual perpetrators are going free.

Currently, the database is under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has seen the the details of over 3,800 people (some of whom were as young as 12). The Independent has revealed that, while black ethnic groups make up only 13% of the wider population of London, they account for over 75% of those on the gangs database.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime’s ‘Crime Dashboard’ report also revealed that, in reality, 80% of injured victims of London’s knife-crime incidents were not at all gang related. “Gangs are, for the most part, a complete red herring… fixation with the term is unhelpful at every level,” a Metropolitan Police officer stated in response.

The Gangs Matrix gives red, amber, or green ratings to each individual; this will depend on the risk of violence they pose to the wider community. Schools, job centres, and housing associations can also be given the information. Interestingly, just over 1,500 subjects had a zero harm score, which means that they had no criminal charge record or links with violence for 2 years. This is where Amnesty International argues the discrimination lies.

London-based anti-racial discrimination organisation, The Monitoring Group, has debated the database’s effectiveness and called for the police to come up with alternative, less oppressive forms.

The report also uncovered instances where police officers were utilising fake social media accounts to track suspected gang members, which may be in breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Section 29(2A)(3) of the Act provides that an authorisation to carry out human intelligence sources will be given in instances where it is necessary; two of the reasons being either “preventing or detecting crime”, and “in the interests of public safety”. Amnesty argues that these requirements were not met, and no authorisations were given to the Metropolitan Police.

In the meantime, there are calls for the Information Commissioner’s Office to perform a full and public investigation into the Gangs Matrix, and whether it acts in accordance with data protection. Furthermore, there has been demand for the database to be completely shut down if it cannot coincide with basic international human rights guidelines.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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