Thursday, 26 July 2007

A Police Operation at a London Tube Station

by Edwin Hesselthwite

"Part of our remit is to reassure the public and demonstrate that we are challenging the knife-carrying culture," Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Shanahan talks to The BBC about Operation Shield (2/4/06).
This evening I had the pleasure of experiencing the enlightened police procedures of Operation Shield. This is an orchestrated attempt to reduce knife crime using the police's powers of stop and search, by highlighting crime hotspots and operating stings. After going through this today, I wish to describe exactly what it entailed:

"This station is ... ... This train will now terminate here" I got up from my seat and wandered to the doors, headphones in my ears. Weaving through the morass of people I made my way to the escalators, which I rode up (standing, as always, on the right) towards the ticket hall. So far, so normal.

The situation I encountered as I rose to the ticket hall is shown in the above camera-phone photographs. From the escalator a thick yellow-ribbon barrier was running directly to the ticket-barriers, preventing anyone from descending the way they had come. Beyond the ticket barriers were a further set of ribbons passing to the large black box of the metal detector. From the moment of rising from the escalator, a person is trapped between barriers, police officers, and a crowd of commuters behind them, the flow of whom are carrying them through the ticket barriers and into the police metal detector. The police have constructed an elaborate, and convincing, trap beyond which is a demarked interrogation area for any positive readings.

"All our honest customers will welcome this joint initiative as it demonstrates our determination to stamp out fraudulent travel, and anti-social behaviour." Silverlink Retail Manager Malcolm Holmes talks on a TFL press release.
At this point some setting: this is a predominantly black neighbourhood, and it has a long — unfortunately well-established — history as a crime hotspot. The tube is the primary transport conduit for the area, so this rush hour tube-station sting is likely to intercept a large proportion of all residents (and in my case of the surrounding area). These stings, chosen on the basis of region (citizens here are unlikely to have easy lives) indiscriminately deprive people of their privacy and their freedom of movement. While I had nothing to worry about with regards to carrying an offensive weapon, I felt degraded by the whole experience — this did not have my consent.

These stings are not one dimensional, on previous occasions I've seen these operated with dogs when targeting drugs, and they always act as a crackdown on fare evaders. Fundamentally they have two purposes, the primary target — in this case people carrying offensive weapons, and to make it clear to those assumed local criminals that don't happen to be packing that these will occur at random. Intimidation is a key aim of this process. In this case the operation involved seven police officers — I will further note, that by using these stings to crackdown on fare evasion, TFL are externalising their fare-enforcement costs to general taxation (one paid bus conductor with a security guard for backup, or a completely free police officer?). It is therefore unsurprising that they are enthusiastic about compromising our freedoms.

These communities are among the most vulnerable in the city and least able to stand up for the civil liberties that these measures indiscriminately violate. One is lead to ask whether coming from a deprived neighbourhood should automatically reduce one's freedoms. An illustration from the 6 month trial operation in 2006:
Since it began, almost 10,000 people have been scanned, 100 arrested and 68 knives seized - BBC News Online
9,900 infringed liberties, 32 criminals caught for separate offences because the police had an excuse to be intrusive, a mere 68 valid excuses.

Click on images for high res versions.


Ann O'Dyne said...

I wouldn't take 68 out of 10,000 as odds on race 5, myself.

and I commend you on your regular fearless ear-phoned transits through this Crime Hellhole.
(Does it help to compare with Police officers in Melbourne Australia who carry guns and have a sorry record of shoot first talk later)

Pritchard Buckminster said...

Somewhat interestingly the infringement goes beyond the stop-and-search side as I have personally had a legal knife (less than 2.5" long, rounded tip) removed from me as an offensive weapon despite no history of violence and the aforementioned legality.

I always carry a legal knife, as every Englishman has the right to do, it helps me countless times during the course of the normal week.

Mind you, they never picked up on the carbon/ceramic gun strapped to my thigh or the plastic sword down my back so maybe I should keep quiet.....

Charles Pooter said...


I too carry a swiss army knife (the excellent "cybertool"), which I use for my job all the time. I'm now worried that I will be arrested.


Pritchard Buckminster said...

The knife I carry is such a part of my basic getting dressed in the morning procedure that I have to date left two in airport amnesty boxes because I simply didn't connect their 'no weapons' policy to the useful tool that is always on my belt!

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Yes I agree Ann.. Although I will point out that The Met have a similar record with shoot first. The Met have a much better reputation than they used to, but I'm still not comfortable with them.

I've not been a knife carrier in about 10 years but I can sympathise... What occasion did the hit you for then Pritch?

6000 said...

"9,900 infringed liberties, 32 criminals caught for separate offences because the police had an excuse to be intrusive, a mere 68 valid excuses."

And, in light of the recent increase in knife crime in London - especially in areas just like the one you describe - how many lives saved?
We'll never know, but if it were just one, it would surely be worth it, right?