IRR: Local authorities must probe police use of data analytics to map communities
July 30, 2020 — Press release
For immediate release
Local authorities and other partners in police safer neighbourhood teams should further probe possible racial profiling in policing, says the IRR today, after it emerged that five police forces, including the Metropolitan police, have used software that can be deployed to help identify whether different ethnic groups ‘specialise’ in particular types of crime.
In response to a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian, the Metropolitan police said that, while they have not deployed the Webber Phillips consultancy’s Origins software programme (which identifies people’s ethnicity or cultural origin by their name) to ‘profile perpetrators and victims’ of crime, they have used the software in other contexts. The Met says the Origins software was used to assist safer neighbourhood teams to better understand and support their local communities. But as the IRR told the Guardian:
‘The fact that the Met and other police forces now see a need to rely on such data analytics to map neighbourhoods in order to reach an “understanding of the communities” within their areas is a sign of just how far we have moved away from the traditions of community policing and policing by consent, due in no small measure to their disproportionate and excessive use of stop and search, handcuffing and Tasers against black people.’
The IRR is asking any organisation or local authority that partners with police in safer neighbourhood teams to consider questions about the police commissioning of contracts with data analytics firms such as the Webber Phillips consultancy. More specifically, they need to know how the data obtained in any existing contracts has impacted on the policing of particular neighbourhoods. The IRR concludes that:
‘As this information comes to light at a time when police and black community relations in the capital are extremely fraught, it’s inevitable that the Met’s use of demographic mapping will be viewed with suspicion and seen for what it is, racial profiling.’
Our recent Twitter thread on the Origins software
The Origins software specialises in identifying ethnicity from people’s names and then links this further to specific types of criminal behaviour. Police use of this software heightens already well-aired concerns about racial profiling. https://t.co/u5k9ZIjPpd
— Institute of Race Relations (@IRR_News) July 27, 2020
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.
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