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.”