Met police strategy is ‘worrying’ and risks alienating ethnic minorities, say campaigners
By Hui Shan Khoo | 12 October 2012
“This is likely to undermine trust in the police among minority communities” – Kam Gill, research and policy analyst, Runnymede Trust
Campaigners on race equality are criticising police over a new elite squad that targets foreign criminals operating in London.
The Runnymede Trust, which campaigns on race equality, described the new unit based at Scotland Yard as a “worrying initiative” that threatens to alienate ethnic minorities.
Exaro revealed last month that the squad, dubbed ‘Operation Terminus’, will target foreign criminals in an effort to increase the number of deportations of “undesirable aliens”.
The new drive by the Metropolitan Police Service fits with a priority for Conservative ministers in the UK’s coalition government to crack down on immigrants from outside the European Union. Theresa May, home secretary, spoke to the Conservative party’s conference on Tuesday about how “uncontrolled mass immigration undermines social cohesion.”
Police have historically faced repeated criticism for targeting people by ethnicity.
The new squad has been shrouded in secrecy, but is expected to be at least 25 strong. Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met’s commissioner, chaired a management meeting in May that discussed the initiative.
Exaro understands that the squad’s formation coincided with the build-up to the Olympics in London this summer, and initially focussed on foreign gangsters drawn to the capital by the games.
The Met declined to discuss the initiative last month, but a spokeswoman told Exaro this week: “The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) continues to target offenders who have been arrested for criminal offences in the UK and may also be subject to being wanted for offences overseas or here illegally, working with the UK Border Agency (UKBA). This is not about targeting specific communities but about targeting criminality.
“The MPS and UKBA continue to work closely together to target organised immigration crime, including in Operation Terminus. In particular, additional UKBA and MPS officers have been posted in custody suites to ensure that we can target and remove foreign national offenders.”
According to the police, 70,000 foreign nationals are arrested per year. Foreign nationals make up a third of everyone arrested.
But Kam Gill, research and policy analyst at the Runnymede Trust, told Exaro that ‘Operation Terminus’ is worrying.
“I would be concerned that police are targeting foreigners in particular. I think that there is a risk that they begin to use ethnic profiling.”
The Runnymede Trust is an independent charity, and takes its name from the field in which King John in 1215 sealed the Magna Carta, the legal document that re-balanced power between the king and his subjects. The Runnymede Trust has long campaigned on the issue of policing in the UK.
Gill said: “The fact that this operation is focussing on the ethnicity of the criminals rather than on the crime gives the impression that it has some political motivation, feeding into an agenda that stigmatises immigrants to the UK.
“This is likely to undermine trust in the police among minority communities, destroying the good relationships that are essential to solving all crime regardless of the ethnicity of the perpetrator.”
The initiative has also triggered concerns that the police will act like an arm of the Border Agency.
However, Michael Levi, professor of criminology at Cardiff university, said that the police were right to pursue foreign criminals.
“Some foreign criminals are here legally, for example, from the European Union, others not. It is bad that anyone is committing crimes, but it is particularly bad if they have no right to be here.”
Expertise in ‘mutual legal assistance’, where one country asks another for information relating to a crime, is “scarce”, said Levi. “That expertise is rightly focussed in a squad like this. It is profiling in a sense, but maybe justifiable profiling.”