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Police data sharing hits black families

PREJUDICE’: Amnesty International says that sharing statistics can lead to unfair outcomes for youngsters

A SECRET POLICE database aimed at tackling rising violence in London could lead to black families being evicted from their homes and as well as young people denied access to education or employment, according to a new report.

An investigation by Amnesty International into the Metropolitan Police’s gang mapping database which is called the Gang Violence Matrix, highlighted criticisms about the disproportionate number of young black males that feature on it.

However as well as the seemingly discriminatory nature behind how information is collated the report raised serious concerns about how police officers share this data with housing associations, schools and job centres.

The result can mean that people on the database can nd themselves and their families facing eviction or denied access to education and employment. The report, called Trapped in the Matrix, said that the issuing of eviction notices is a routine tactic used to put pressure on those featured on the database to dissuade them from gang membership.

But such moves also threaten an individual’s family with homelessness. In one worrying case a family received a letter threatening them with eviction from their home if their son didn’t cease his involvement with gangs, only for them to have to inform officers that their son had been dead for more than a year.

Young people’s life chances are also threatened. In another case, one individual lost his place in college after they found out the police had him listed as being involved in a gang.


Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s policing expert told The Voice: “It’s referred to as an Achilles heel tactic which the Met police use. Several people we spoke to as part of the report had been on the receiving end of them so we’re con dent that the use of these tactics are fairly widespread.

This is one of the things we’ve asked to be investigated both by the Information Commissioners Office and more important the Mayor’s Office for policing and Crime when they conduct their review of the Matrix."

The use of geographic data has been questioned

Sprague added: “It’s certainly the case that the threat of eviction is part of an approach to using the database which says ‘we will make the life of your family as uncomfortable as possible’. The Met makes a big play that the Matrix is a harm reduction tool and steering vulnerable young people away from a life of crime.

But we saw very little evidence in the course of our year-long research of that positive safeguarding function in terms of examples and case studies. What we did see was the enforcement end of things.”


And speaking about concerns over the way police officers shared data, Sprague said: “Data protection law doesn’t preclude you from sharing data but if you do share it you have to follow a very specific set of rules.

“So the very fact that different borough police forces share different rules about how they share data means that it’s highly likely that the police are going to be breaching the rules.”

The researchers spoke to more than 30 professionals who use the Gangs Matrix, including the police and other organisations, as well as community members and young people affected by the Matrix which was launched in 2012 in response to the 2011 London riots.

Figures from October 2017, show that of the 3,806 people listed on the database 78 per cent were from an African Caribbean background. But police figures show that only 27 per cent of those prosecuted for youth violence are black and about 13 per cent of London’s population is black.

Also the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime found that more than 80 per cent of all knife-crime incidents resulting in injury to a victim aged under 25 in London were deemed to be non-gang-related.

David Lammy

One Met Police of cer who was concerned about how the database was being used told Amnesty: “Gangs are, for the most part, a complete red herring... fixation with the term is unhelpful at every level.”

Another concern highlighted by Trapped in The Matrix was that the vagueness of the ‘gang’ label means it is hap-hazardly used. But in practice it is disproportionately assigned to black men and boys, even where an individual’s offending profile is otherwise the same as a white individual who is not so labelled.

The report’s authors said this reflects a historic pattern of over-policing of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. According to Amnesty those on the Gangs Matrix are often labelled as suspected gang members based on factors that have nothing to do with serious crime, but are more to do with aspects of youth culture such as the music they listen to or the videos they watch online.

In other cases they feature on the database after being victims of gang violence themselves. The matrix uses various intelligence including history of violent crime, entries on social media and information from bodies including local councils to identify gang members.

They are then given a score assessing the risk they posed. Around 40 per cent of those on the list have a “harm score” of zero, the report found. Last week data watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed it was in contact with the Metropolitan Police Service as part of an investigation into their use of a gangs database.”

Responding to claims that data is shared in a way that targets an individual’s family, a Met Police spokesperson said: “In each London borough, selected information (not the entire matrix) will be shared with community safety partners in order to specifically reduce crime and disorder.


“This includes local authorities, the youth offending service, probation, housing, edu- cation, and local healthcare providers. Information discussed at these meetings is con dential and must not be disseminated further.”

And addressing claims that the database is racially disproportionate the spokesperson said that the Met Police 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”.

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