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Met Police to scrap and replace ‘racist’ Gangs Violence Matrix

A database used by the Metropolitan Police to identify and track people linked with gang violence is being decommissioned and replaced. The decision follows a long-running controversy over its discriminatory impacts on young black people, but campaigners warn that racial discrimination will persist with new tool

The Metropolitan Police is scrapping its controversial Gangs Violence Matrix (GVM) database after long-standing concerns over the tool’s racial disproportionality, but human rights groups have warned that its replacement is likely to repeat the same mistakes.

Set up in 2012 as a part of the government’s self-declared and evidence-free “war on gangs” in the wake of the Tottenham riots, the secretive GVM was being used by the Met to identify, monitor and target individuals the force considers to be involved in gang violence.

Two separate investigations by the UK information commissioner’s office (ICO) and Amnesty International from 2018 found that the GVM disproportionately affected people from minority ethnic communities, with 78% of those listed in the database at the time being black (compared with 27% of people convicted for serious youth violence-related offences being black).

They also found that 40% of those listed on the matrix had a “harm score” of zero applied by the algorithm, meaning police had no record of them being involved in a violent offence, while 64% of all individuals had been labelled green (the lowest risk category). Some 75% of all people named on the matrix were found to be victims of violence themselves.

In the face of imminent legal action from human rights group Liberty over the tool’s discriminatory impact, the Met admitted in November 2022 that black people are disproportionately represented on the matrix, and that efforts to address this have not worked.

In response, it said would overhaul the system by removing more than 1,100 people’s information (roughly a third of all people in the matrix), and committed to its “complete redesign”.

Now, after a year of “lengthy engagement with communities”, the Met has said it is “apparent that violence in its totality was the overwhelming concern rather than gang violence in isolation”, and that it has therefore made the decision to decommission the matrix and instead look to tackle serious violence through adapting its existing Violence Harm Assessment (VHA) tool.

The Met said the overall approach will focus on the most violent offenders overall, rather than targeting gang members specifically; that it will use a different, “academically recognised” scoring methodology; and that, unlike the GVM, officers will not be able to manually adjust the scoring.

It added that the VHA will also not involve the blanket sharing of sensitive information with a wide array of third parties (which the ICO and Amnesty identified as a major problem with the GVM in their 2018 investigations), with any data sharing now conducted on a case-by-case basis.

It further added that, to appear in the VHA, individuals would have to “feature in at least four separate reports, two of which must be a crime report, or feature in three crime reports where the harm score of those reports is 2500 or greater.” These report they are included in must also have been made in the past 12 months.

“The existence of the VHA will be in the public domain, but the VHA itself will not be available outside the Met and no information about whether an individual is on the VHA or not will be provided to the courts as evidence. The tool is for intelligence use only,” said the Met.

“The Crown Prosecution Service shall be informed that the VHA was used when deciding to take police action, which in turn gathered evidence that forms part of a case, however the VHA itself will not be shared.”

A Met press release added the VHA would “complement” the force’s ongoing work by identifying violence linked to increased gang tensions, and that gang crime would now be treated to the type of “precision-led policing” currently used to identify the “most dangerous and violent sexual predators”.

However, while campaigners have welcomed the dismantling of the gangs matrix, they have warned that the new tool will likely embed the same racial discrimination.

Katrina Ffrench, founder of community interest group Unjust UK and a claimant in the Liberty case, said that while it was right that the “unlawful tool” has finally been scrapped after more than a decade in use, “the Met must not repeat the same mistakes by bringing in yet another system that treats black people unequally and unfairly”.

Musician Awate Suleiman – another claimant in the case – added that it should never have taken the Met “this long to scrap something that the rest of us have known for so long was so obviously racist”, pointing out it took the force 30 months to confirm he was not included in the matrix.

“The Gangs Violence Matrix was a relic of colonialism used by the Met Police to target people it thinks nobody cares about. The secretive nature of the matrix meant anyone could be on it and not know, and many people like me had their mental health damaged and possibilities limited by thinking they were on it,” he said.

“While I’m glad the matrix has at last been dismantled, I’m disappointed that it’s been replaced by yet another system which looks set to repeat this injustice and continue to discriminate against working-class black people. Instead, I want to see funding diverted to programmes that improve our lives – not punish us for being poor and neglected by the state.”

Louise Whitfield, Liberty’s head of legal casework, said: “It already looks like the Met has failed to learn the lessons that should have come from this case.”

“The Matrix was an unlawful, racist policing tool which breached the human rights of the people who were placed on it,” she added. “It shouldn’t have taken legal action followed by a 15-month delay for the Met to stop using it. We now have serious concerns that the racial discrimination embedded in the gangs matrix is set to be repeated in the Violence Harms Assessment system.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the move to VHA is a “significant change” that will help the force pursue prolific offenders in a more targeted way, as well as provide the opportunity to work with third parties to support those vulnerable to gangs and violence.

“But there is still a lot of work to do, and Londoners will rightly judge this new approach on results,” he added.

The existence of the GVM data base was first uncovered by community organiser and racial equality activist Stafford Scott, who was leaked the Haringey version of the matrix in 2017.

Speaking with Computer Weekly in November 2018, Scott compared the matrix to the UK’s sus laws, which allowed police to stop, search and arrest anyone they suspected would commit a crime, and which were used heavily the late 1970s and early 1980s against Britain’s black population.

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