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Amnesty International attacks gang violence database



Civil liberties organisations places pressure on Metropolitan Police with claims of racial discrimination in operation of Gangs Matrix

A ‘gang violence’ database operated by the Metropolitan Police is being investigated after claims that it wrongly captures details of black men simply because they like grime music.

The information commissioner has stepped in amid allegations that the Gangs Matrix is racially discriminatory and should be overhauled or scrapped.

Set up after the 2011 riots, the database gives suspected gang members a score assessing how dangerous they are – to determine which should be targeted for disruption tactics.

But a report by Amnesty International, Inside the Matrix, says that no fewer than 78% of the nearly 4,000 young men in London who are listed are black, despite forming just 13% of the capital's population.

The human rights group said that one of the criteria for being included was the sharing on social media of videos by grime music artists that include gang names or signs. It claimed this create a high risk that young black men were being targeted for being part of a subculture, rather than presenting a genuine risk, and warned the database breaches human rights law after identifying serious failings, including officers covertly befriending individuals online.

Knife crime violence

“There is clearly a huge problem with knife crime violence at the moment in London, but the Gangs Matrix is not the answer,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director.

“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.

“Some police officers have been acting like they’re in the wild west, making the false assumptions that they can set up fake profiles and covertly befriend people online to monitor them without needing the appropriate search warrants.”

The Guardian newspaper learned of the commissioner’s inquiry after it found that more than 40% of young people recorded from Haringey in north London are scored as posing zero risk of causing harm.

DPA breach

James Dipple-Johnstone , the deputy commissioner for operations, said: “We are in contact with the Metropolitan Police as part of an investigation into their use of a 'gang database’. As part of this, we're considering how the database is used and if any aspects of it constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act.”

But the Met Police insisted the scores are reliable and that the database has helped both to save lives and prevent people being drawn into gang violence.

“It is informed by intelligence, but it is primarily based on violent offences,” a spokesperson said. “The overarching aim of the Matrix is to reduce gang related violence and prevent young lives being lost.”

 Image by Downtownstreets, CC BY 2.0

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