Met police criticised for 'gang call-in' letter

Wednesday, 23 September, 2015

The Met police attracted criticism after sending a letter to 24 young people in Brent - all believed to be black - demanding they attend a community meeting or be treated like law-breakers, The Guardian reports. The 'gang call-in' letter was sent on 19 August following a stabbing in the area.

None of the recipients were actually suspects in the stabbing, but they were told police intelligence had linked them to gangs in the area. Only two actually went to the meeting, but a few others were represented by their mothers.

The letter said: 

'If you choose not to attend we will see this as a clear message that you intend to continue with a criminal lifestyle. As such, we will work hard to disrupt your activities utilising every legitimate means available to use.'

Lawyers and civil liberties groups said that at best the approach would do more harm than good, and at worst it looked like racial profiling and coercion. 

A spokesman for the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence said:

'What this letter shows is that the Metropolitan police are willing to use baseless threats to get black families to comply with their demands.'

A Met spokeswoman was unapologetic:

'The letter was deliberately strongly worded to make an impact and aimed to leave gang members in no doubt what awaits them if they continue with their current behaviour.'

In mid-September The Guardian reported that Operational Shield, a controversial initiative which uses similar tactics to divert purported 'gang' members away from law-breaking but also collective punishment if alleged 'gang' associates are convicted, was rejected by Haringey and Lambeth, two of the three London boroughs it was being piloted in. Communities were worried about how people are identified as being in a 'gang' and the injustice issues around collective punishment, believing it would further deteriorate fragile relations between young black people and the police.

Research into police gang databases suggests that the overwhelming majority of people identified by the police as being gang involved are black and minority ethnic despite this group making up a relatively small proportion of people convicted for serious youth violence offences.

Other research submitted to a justice select committee review into joint enterprise found that the number of black people serving custodial sentences for convictions secured under joint enterprise is hugely disproportional to both the black prison population and the general population. 

You can read the full letter the Met police sent to the young people in Brent.

Our Research Director, Roger Grimshaw, has also written a short piece of questioning why the police are calling for more stop and search activity to reduce knife crime.