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Too busy to take a leaflet from uniformed police officers – you may be followed by undercover officers

The Northern Police Monitoring Project (NPMP) has called for the end of Project Servator. A new country wide anti-crime operation, which the NPMP claims is “another example of police forces monitoring and imposing themselves upon individuals without any legitimate justification.”

In a statement on Project Servator, the NPMP drew attention to a video tweeted by Greater Manchester Police, in which Superintendent Chris Hall stated that those who appeared unwilling to engage with police officers handing out leaflets on Project Servator in public places, by not speaking to the officers or refusing to take a leaflet, would be “watched” by plain-clothes officers. The video also urged the public not to worry that these “checks” were taking place more often.

An open letter published by the NPMP last week, signed by 95 academics, artists, anti-racist and civil liberty groups, alleged that Greater Manchester Police had not justified the program and had failed to respond to “legitimate concerns of the community”.

NPMP’s letter highlighted that this tactic has the potential to infringe on peoples right to personal privacy and to discriminate against certain communities:

“The public have the right to go about their daily lives without fear of state monitoring and surveillance. When individuals are not obligated to engage with the police, they have a choice, and choosing not to should not be grounds for suspicion.

“Given the harm that over-policing has caused to many communities, we would even suggest that a direct desire not to engage with the police could be entirely justifiable and should not be grounds for suspicion.”

Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, a researcher in ethnicity and inequalities at the University of Manchester and a member of NPMP and the Racial Justice Network, said:

“Greater Manchester Police too often operate without consulting the public of Greater Manchester. To deem those who do not take leaflets as worthy of suspicion is laughable, and shows that the police are acting on whim rather than evidence or logic.”

Project Servator’s basis in profiling possible offenders and the use of stop and search powers to apprehend suspects brings problems since both tactics are associated with a discriminatory racial bias.

Research by Stopwatch, which campaigns for fair and effective policing, found that in Greater Manchester black people were searched five times more than white people and that only 11% of stops resulted in an arrest.

Joseph-Salisbury fears the police have not learnt from their past failures:

“The history of policing, nationally, as well as in our city, shows that initiatives such as this impact most harshly on working class communities, and particularly on black and brown communities. We know that stop and search is incredibly ineffective in preventing crime, and acts only to alienate and marginalise already marginalised communities. There is nothing to suggest that Project Servator will be any different.”

Originally developed in 2014 by City of London Police, Project Servator involves highly visible and unpredictable deployments of police assets ranging from mounted units to dogs and armed response teams. GMP has stated: “The patrols will happen anywhere across Greater Manchester at any time.”

While new policing techniques and resources are being rolled out to pre-empt crime, Greater Manchester Police has been criticised for failing to investigate 43% of crimes that actually occur.

The GMP force has been hollowed out by cuts, with the loss of 2,000 officers over the last decade. Cuts to the police service have coincided with a report this January of an annual 19% rise in violent crime reported across England and Wales.

The Meteor contacted the GMP to ask them if they had a response to the concerns raised by NPMP of Servator being used for unwarranted and unjustified surveillance. The GMP responded with this:

“Project Servator was first launched in 2014 and has been happening across the UK since then to disrupt a range of criminal activity and help people feel safe and secure as they go about their daily business.

“This project is all about working together with the public and our partners to send a clear message to potential criminals – we are here, we’re watching and we will stop you. The safety and security of our community is an absolute priority for us.”

At the time of publishing GMP has not contacted the NPMP, or other signatories of the open letter, to address their concerns.

 

Nicholas Prescott

You can find out more about Northern Police monitoring Project’s work here

Or follow them on Twitter @npolicemonitor

You can follow Project Servator deployments on Twitter at #ProjectServator

Read: A democratic media for Manchester

Feature Image: Twitterce

Article was modified on 7 June 2019, the Meteor originally published that it had asked GMP if it had plans to consult with NPMP or community leaders to allay their fears of Project Servator, this was not part of the original press enquiry. The Meteor has now put this question to GMP and is awaiting a response.

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