Met police chief to reform list of alleged gang members targeting black men

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A controversial Metropolitan police list of alleged gang members that mainly targeted black men “amplified disproportionality” and must be radically reformed, Britain’s top police officer has said.

The gang violence matrix was branded part of a “racialised war” on gangs by Amnesty Internationaland was found potentially to be breaching data laws by the information commissioner.

It ranked people by the threat they posed, and the matrix faced claims that hundreds of youngsters in London were placed on it who should not have been.

Now more than 1,000 young men who were on the list even though they were classed as posing little or no risk of violence have been removed.

Those on it could be subject to “Al Capone-style” disruption tactics, such as losing housing, or driving licences, as part of “lawful harassment”.

Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley vowed to implement reforms, after Sadiq Khan had pressed the force for change.

A report for the mayor of London, to be released on Monday, found: “There remains an over-representation of young Black males on the overall GVM [gang violence matrix] population as compared to both police recorded offending and victimisation cohorts.”

The matrix now has 1,933 individuals, a fall of 49% from its peak in 2017, when 3,881 people were on it.

Rowley said: “We acknowledge that the gangs violence matrix does need to be redesigned, taking into account improvements in statistical methods and technologies.

“We know that young men, and in particular young black men, continue to be over-represented on the matrix.

“Sadly, there is a reality that levels of violent crime do disproportionally affect young black men – both in terms of victimisation and offending – and our tactics do need to be targeted so we can protect those most at risk.

“However, it is not appropriate that the matrix further amplifies this disproportionality. As an immediate response, we are removing all the lowest-risk individuals. This represents 65% , or more than 1,100 people.”

In 2018, the Information Commissioner’s Office found the gangs matrix was potentially breaking data protection laws and failed to distinguish between victims of crime and offenders. In an embarrassing move for the Met, the ICO issued Britain’s biggest force with formal enforcement notices to improve.

The same year the Guardian revealed that more than 40% of young people on a matrix list from Haringey, north London, were scored as posing “zero” risk of causing harm. Some were assessed as being much more likely to be victims than offenders.

Khan said: “The fact black Londoners have less trust in the Met should concern us all. That is why the comprehensive overhaul of the gang violence matrix is so important – increased scrutiny and transparency will help increase the degree of confidence all of London’s diverse communities can have in the Met.

“As a direct result of the police acting on the recommendations, the Matrix database is now more effective and more evidence-based than ever before.”

The average age of those on the matrix is 23 and most are male. The proportion who are black or ethnic minority has fallen from 89% in 2019 to 77% in 2021.

Critics say more still is needed.

Veteran campaigner Stafford Scott said those being removed should be told, and he condemned the unfairness of how widely the matrix had encroached on young people’s lives when they posed little or no risk of violence.

He said: “These young people have been the recipient of the Met’s ‘achilles heel’ policing policy that requires all government agencies to penalise those targeted.

“This means that their human rights have been breached by multiple organisations. These young people will feel that these services are still unavailable to them. Unless they are informed and enabled to seek redress. They continue to live chaotic lives on the margins of society doing whatever they feel is necessary to survive.”

Oliver Feeley-Sprague of Amnesty International said reforms were needed to clean up the Met: “We sounded the alarm over the Met police’s racist gangs matrix years ago, so this review is welcome but long overdue.

“Stigmatising young black men on the basis of the music they listen to, their social media behaviour or who they are associated with is completely unacceptable, damaging numerous people’s lives and further damaging trust in the institution of policing itself.”

Liberty is bringing a legal action, which reaches court next month. Emmanuelle Andrews from the civil rights group said: “Being on the matrix can have a devastating consequence on your life, from increased stop and searches to having private data shared with schools and housing providers that affects your education and accommodation statuses.

“It is right the Met police have today removed more people from the gangs matrix, but this still does not go far enough. ”

The matrix was devised after the 2011 riots when the Conservative government were convinced gangs were to blame for the worst mass violence to hit England in modern times. Report after reportfound poor social conditions and poor relations with police were more of a factor.

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