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Questioning Casey

Are black Londoners “over-policed”?

Artillery Row

21 March marked the publication of a major review into “the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service”. Its findings have been accepted largely uncritically by the media, including most of the right-wing media.

The review’s author, Baroness Casey, concludes that there is “institutional racism” in the Met, one example of which is that black Londoners are “over-policed”.

As evidence, she cites data showing that black Londoners are much more likely to be subjected to the use of force by police (see below). They comprise around 41 per cent of those subjected to the use of force, despite making up only 14 per cent of London’s population aged 11 to 61.

Is this evidence of over-policing? The report also includes a section on sexism in the Met, which makes no mention of the fact that men comprise 87 per cent of those subjected to the use of force by police, despite being only half the population. Why no concern?

Well, men commit much more violent crime than women, so they’re much more likely to end up in a situation where the police use force against them. Nobody would seriously claim that men are over-policed because they’re disproportionately represented amongst those subjected to the use of force.

Casey actually acknowledges that “the entire London population will not be the most accurate baseline to ascertain disproportionality” since children and old people are very unlikely to be subjected to the use of force. Yet she fails to take the argument to its logical conclusion, which is that all groups (not just age-groups) get policed in proportion to the amount of crime they commit.

As Joseph Cesario and colleagues note in a 2018 paper, “insofar as Blacks and Whites have different police exposure rates, a more correct benchmark to calculate racial disparity … is not population proportions but instead rates of police exposure”. These can be “reasonably approximated by rates of criminal involvement”.

Black people are actually under-represented amongst those subjected to the use of force

How do London’s ethnic groups compare on “rates of criminal involvement”? Thanks to two freedom of information requests, we know that in the years 2015–2019 and 2021, 56 per cent of those who were “proceeded against for murder offences” in London were black.

This figure represents people whom the authorities felt they had a strong enough case against to pursue legal action, so it’s unlikely to simply reflect bias in who gets arrested. Indeed, Casey criticises the Met for having used the custody population as a benchmark in their own analysis because this “assumes no disproportionality or bias exists in any and all encounters the Met have with the public”.

Incidentally, the ratio of per cent black amongst murder offenders, to per cent black in the population, is the same in London as it is in England and Wales as a whole. According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, blacks made up 4 per cent of the population but 16 per cent of “convicted principal suspects” in the crime of homicide. 16 to 4 in England and Wales is the same as 56 to 14 in London.

Recall that 41 per cent of those subjected to the use of force by the Met are black. This means that black people are actually under-represented amongst those subjected to the use of force — relative to their murder rate. Now, murder rate isn’t necessarily the correct benchmark for assessing whether black Londoners are over-policed, but it’s certainly more appropriate than population aged 11 to  61.

Which would you say is a better benchmark for assessing whether men are over-policed — the fact that they comprise half the population, or the fact that they comprise 96 per cent of those “proceeded against for murder offences”? If Casey wants to insist that population is the right benchmark, she has to accept that male Londoners are massively over-policed.

The Casey Review does not provide convincing evidence that black Londoners are over-policed. This matters because when the police come under pressure not to appear “racist”, ordinary people suffer from the lack of enforcement.

This article was reproduced by kind permission.

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