Ankle tags used to target young black men, London mayor’s report finds

Exclusive: analysis suggests unconscious bias may have disproportionately linked black men to knife crime

Electronic ankle tags are being used to racially target and sentence young black men for knife crime offences in a way that “may reflect unconscious bias” among Metropolitan police officers, according to internal documents from the mayor of London’s office.

In an equality analysis assessment obtained through a freedom of information request, the mayor’s office for policing and crime (Mopac), which has oversight for the Met, acknowledged that the use of GPS-enabled monitoring tags “may reflect unconscious bias within probation risk assessments … that are more likely to link BAME young men to risk and serious criminality”.

They added: “We have found that BAME individuals were overrepresented when compared to the proportions of BAME offenders sentenced to custody for knife crime offences.”

An ethnicity breakdown shows that almost a quarter (22%) of knife crime offenders tagged on release from London prisons last year were black British Caribbean, and 16% were black African. More than half (57%) were aged 18-24 and nearly all (98%) were male.

The Mopac is now offering probation officers refresher training on racial disproportionality, including discussion of the role of unconscious bias and “other relevant factors in decision-making”.

Earlier this week the new Met police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said he would be “ruthless” in tackling racist and misogynist attitudes, admitting that there was “a real problem with race” in the force.

“Racism is a systemic issue that we have been too weak in tackling, and it’s got too much of a hold in corners of the organisation,” Rowley said. “I’m going to be ruthless about rooting out racism and other bad behaviours. I’m going to confront the systemic issues that have allowed it to prosper in a way it shouldn’t have done.”

In 2019, the Ministry of Justice awarded the British technology company Buddi Ltd a six-figure contract to produce GPS-enabled monitoring tags, initially tagging knife crime offenders released from London prisons. Last year Mopac announced the tagging scheme would also include high-risk domestic abuse offenders and would be extended through to March 2023.

Information gathered from the tags is stored by Buddi and shared with the probation service, Ministry of Justice and, “when necessary, justified and proportionate to do so”, with the Met, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

Buddi is also working with the Ministry of Justice and Mopac to provide extra analysis for court reports and “expert witness testimony in cases where location data accuracy is part of a court trial”.

Internal documents show that, in at least one case since the start of the GPS monitoring programme in 2019, the Met has been given direct access to Buddi systems to monitor an individual’s location live.

To date, the Met says it has made one prosecution from the 129,000 offences processed through crime mapping, which cross-references the movements of tagged offenders with reported crimes in London.

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said: “The GPS tagging pilot programme is focused on making our communities safer. It monitors the activity of serious knife crime and domestic abuse offenders released from prison and is working to quickly identify those who break their licence conditions to protect victims and put the onus on perpetrators to change their behaviour, rather than their victims.

“The mayor is committed to tackling racial disproportionality, and this pilot is being closely monitored and assessed. In response to wider issues of disproportionality within the criminal justice system, Sadiq has produced a youth justice disproportionality action plan to help ensure fair and equal treatment for all.”


Nicola Kelly

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
London attack: PM says terrorism sentence changes may be applied retrospectively
After Streatham attack, Boris Johnson says those already in jail may lose early release option

Peter Walker Political correspondent

03, Feb, 2020 @12:42 PM

Article image
UK police use of live facial recognition unlawful and unethical, report finds
Study says deployment of technology in public by Met and South Wales police failed to meet standards

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

27, Oct, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
From crime to the courts: the biggest issues the UK’s new PM will face
Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will have to deal with 20-year high in recorded crime and barristers’ indefinite strike this autumn

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

28, Aug, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Letters: Crime and punishment issues raised by the riots
Letters: Justice must be restorative and not vengeful. But the language of politicians and police, and the actions of some magistrates do not augur well

12, Aug, 2011 @8:00 PM

Article image
More than half of black people searched by UK police felt humiliated, survey finds
Poll shows levels of trust in the police markedly lower among black people than white people

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

08, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Stop-and-search rethink is needed after Mark Duggan verdict, says Sadiq Khan
Shadow justice secretary also says Met police will not be able to rebuild trust while force remains 'stubbornly white'

Alan Travis, home affairs editor

10, Jan, 2014 @12:15 PM

Article image
Stop and search not the solution | Letters
Letters: Last year black people were stopped by the Metropolitan police on 30,000 occasions without any further action


16, Jan, 2018 @5:15 PM

Article image
Police cuts pose greatest risk to countering terrorism, says ex-chief
Robert Quick rejects Johnson’s ‘cliches’ about sentencing laws after London Bridge attack

Vikram Dodd and Jamie Grierson

03, Dec, 2019 @6:50 PM

Article image
Stop and searches in London up fivefold under controversial powers
Critics say black people targeted disproportionately and community relations harmed

Simon Murphy

04, Jun, 2019 @1:49 PM

Article image
Youth Justice Board chair aims to tackle racial disparities in criminal justice system in England and Wales
Keith Fraser says all agencies working with BAME children need to examine their practices, and that children should not be treated the same as adults in the justice system

Helen Pidd

27, Jul, 2020 @6:00 AM