Police fining and arresting black and Asian people disproportionately under coronavirus laws in London

Lizzie Dearden
A police officer moves sunbathers on in Greenwich Park, London, on 9 May: Yui Mok/PA

Police are fining black and Asian people disproportionately under coronavirus laws in London, new figures show.

Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police show that more than a quarter of fines for lockdown violations (253) have been handed to black people, who make up 12 per cent of the capital’s population.

A further 23 per cent (220) were given to Asian people, who are 18 per cent of London residents. The largest number of penalties (444) were handed to white people, but they made up under half of fines despite being 59 per cent of the population.

Scotland Yard said the reasons for the disparity were “likely to be complex and reflect a range of factors”.

“Covid-19 enforcement powers are exercised against a street population yet the population data is a static residential population which is only updated once every 10 years,” said a report published on Wednesday.

“No population base data will ever accurately capture a street population in a given area, at a given time but it is of note we were seeing more young adults out of their home than older adults.”

Black people have also been subject to disproportionate arrests under both the Health Protection Regulations and separate Coronavirus Act in London, making up almost a third of the total.

The largest group of arrested people, 38 per cent, were white, 14 per cent were Asian, 6 per cent mixed race and 4 per cent other.

Of the 711 people arrested, only 36 were accused solely of breaking coronavirus laws, while the others were primarily detained for other suspected crimes including drug offences, theft, weapons possession, violence, robbery and assaulting police.

The Metropolitan Police said officers had been carrying out more street patrols in the lockdown period, and proactive operations in “high crime areas”.

Its report said officers had stopped adding coronavirus charges to other offences following the release of Crown Prosecution Service guidance saying the practice should stop.

“Crime is also not proportionate, with different crimes affecting different groups, the root causes of which are complex,” it added.

“Enforcement and has always been seen as a last resort ... the use of fixed penalty notices has been the first stage and only if that has not been effective have arrest powers then been used.”

The vast majority of coronavirus fines and arrests in London have been given to young men and Scotland Yard found a “strong correlation to hot weather and holiday periods contributing to people being out” in the early stages of the lockdown.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons said: “Our aim has been to protect London, and not to unnecessarily criminalise where we can avoid it.

“We have seen, overall, good compliance when we have intervened, meaning in most cases the need for issuing a fine or arrest has been unnecessary.

“I hope Londoners will be reassured as a result of the low volume of Covid-19 related enforcement that we have been using the new powers only when we have absolutely needed to.”

The figures were from when the law came into force on 27 March to 14 May, before the most recent easing of lockdown rules.

They follow separate statistics released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) showing that fines are racially disproportionate across England and Wales.

Between 27 March and 25 May, 78 per cent of the 17,000 penalties issued were given to white people, 13 per cent to Asian people, 5 per cent to black people and 2 per cent people to those of mixed race.

But the population of England and Wales is 86 per cent white, 7.5 per cent Asian, 3.3 per cent black and 2 per cent mixed race.

Last week, a group of human rights organisations wrote to the health secretary calling for police powers to be narrowed to prevent “arbitrary” enforcement.

The letter said the impact of lockdown enforcement had “not been evenly felt”, and the differences were undermining trust in authorities.

“During the biggest public health crisis in a generation, communities of colour are both over-policed and under-protected,” it said.

“In the interests of public health, fairness and equality, as we enter the next phase of lockdown, we urge you to address race disparities in the use of coronavirus powers.”

There have also been warnings of a “postcode lottery”, as some police forces hand out fines at much higher rates than others when compared by the area’s population.

The difference varies by up to a multiple of 26 in England, and 10 in Wales according to calculations by The Independent, and there are significant differences even for neighbouring regions.

A government spokesperson said: “It is right to give police the powers they need to protect the public and keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The vast majority of people have respected the social distancing measures, with the police only enforcing the rules in a very small proportion of cases.

“We are clear that no one should be subject to police enforcement on the basis of race alone and we will work closely with the police to assess whether there is any disproportionality.”

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