Statewatch News Online: UK: Report calls for the abolition of London's "paramilitary" riot squad due to poor relations with young people (1)

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Report calls for the abolition of London's "paramilitary" riot squad due to poor relations with young people

A report by Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of London's local government body has called for the abolition of the Territorial Support Group (TSG), a wing of London's Metropolitan Police force most widely known for its role in public order policing, with Jones on record as saying the unit acts like a "paramilitary body". [1]

The report is highly critically of the TSG, saying that "it is time to rethink their purpose" and recommending that "the Met should scrap the TSG and use that funding to train a greater number of police officers for public order situations." [2]

Jones, who also serves as deputy chair of the Assembly's Policing and Crime Committee, argues in the report that "the Metropolitan Police Serve has a trust problem with young people, who are the victims of a growing number of crimes. If it doesn't address this, the Mayor will struggle to achieve his aim of boosting confidence in the police by 20% by 2016."

The report highlights research that shows a lack of trust in the police in general amongst young people, but those interviewed for the report talked about the TSG "in a particularly negative way", referring to TSG vehicles as "bully vans".

Policing in London is undertaken by units based in the city's boroughs, but the TSG's remit means that it operates across the capital. It acts as "a centrally based mobile squad for combating serious crime and other policing issues that could not be dealt with by local police." [3]

The unit has three main tasks - providing "an anti-terrorism and domestic extremism capability," providing "an immediate response to spontaneous disorder anywhere in London," and "reducing priority crime," for example knife crime.

The TSG is therefore frequently involved in stop and search operations, and a recent Independent Police Complaints Commission report notes that "the reasons given by [TSG] officers when conducting some stop and searches in the first instance were, at best, questionable," and cases examined by the IPCC contained "a number of allegations relating to racist behaviour by officers." [4]

While Jones recommends scrapping the TSG in its entirety, she also states that "if the Mayor is unwilling to call for this then he should prioritise youth training for TSG officers and ensure this is a compulsory element of their training."

The report notes complaints from young men that TSG officers "were more likely to jump from the van and harass them with questions when they were not in school uniform," with numerous people saying that "the relationship between the TSG is damaging the relationship young people have with the police overall. This one team appears to exemplify the problems between young people and the police."

Despite politicians and commentators frequently calling for a greater police presence on the streets in order to increase public perception of safety, "young people reported that seeing more police on the streets did not make them feel safer."

Jones says that she "was told by young people that when they see police officers on the streets it made them feel there must be a negative reason for them to be there."

The report calls for the Metropolitan Police to "commit more officers to visit schools, taking party in workshops and interacting with the young people," saying that police officers "must become part of the furniture of everyday life so that young people have predominantly positive interactions with the police."

"Complaints of excessive force and oppressive behaviour"

The negative view of the Territorial Support Group held by London's young people is reinforced by a review of the unit by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which in December published a review of complaints made about TSG officers over a four-year period, from 2008 to 2012. [5]

The review, based on complaints dealt with by both the Metropolitan Police and those that were subsequently referred to the IPCC, noted that "the TSG has, at least historically, generated higher number of recorded complaints of excessive force and oppressive behaviour than territorial policing [normal] officers."

The majority of those making complaints against the TSG were young black men, and more than half of the cases dealt with by the IPCC involving the TSG were related to the use of stop and search powers, although the unit is more widely-known - and most frequently comes to public attention - for its role in the policing of protests.

This criticism was most vocal following the G20 protests in London in June 2009, during which Simon Harwood, a TSG officer who was supposed to be on duty as a driver, pushed Ian Tomlinson (who was uninvolved in the protests) to the ground. Mr Tomlinson died hours later, with an inquest in May 2011 finding that he was unlawfully killed, although Harwood was last July found not guilty of manslaughter.

The policing of the G20 protests also saw hundreds of people - including protesters, journalists, and passers-by - kettled for hours outside the Bank of England without access to food or toilets, while a Climate Camp protest outside the Carbon Exchange on nearby Bishopsgate was kettled and later cleared with "baton charges and police dogs." [6]

The IPCC notes that the level of complaints made against TSG officers following the G20 protests was significantly higher than those recorded following student and trade union demonstrations in 2010 and 2011, and "some TSG deployments had no recorded complaints, even though complaints were recorded against territorial policing officers." However, such a review is unable to account for those who feel they were mistreated by the police but did not file formal complaints.

There are 793 TSG officers in London, and the unit provides training in firearms, public order, "rapid entry", the use of tasers, "plain clothes/uniform tactics", and "providing tactical solutions and advice to borough and business group problems." It was established in 1987 as the successor to the Special Patrol Group. [7]

[1] Call to disband Met riot police over mistrust, BBC News, 4 January 2013
[2] Jenny Jones, 'The Kids Are All Rights: How the Metropolitan Police Service can gain the trust of young Londoners', January 2013
[3] Independent Police Complaints Commission, Metropolitan Police Service Territorial Support Group: A review of complaints data and IPCC cases 2008-2012, December 2012
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Trevor Hemmings, Shock and anger at the violent policing tactics used at the G8 Summit, June 2010
[7] Metropolitan Police, Territorial Support Group

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