Coronavirus: Police twice as likely to fine young Bame men for breaching lockdown rules

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people issued fixed-penalty notices ‘disproportionately’ during lockdown in England and Wales, admits National Police Chiefs’ Council

Chris Baynes
Monday 27 July 2020 18:21 BST
A police officer speaks to people on Clapham Common, south London, in March during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown
A police officer speaks to people on Clapham Common, south London, in March during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown

Police were twice as likely to fine young black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) men for breaching coronavirus lockdown regulations than white men of the same age, new figures show.

Forces in England and Wales issued fixed-penalty notices to Bame people at a rate 1.6 times higher than to white people, according to a report by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which acknowledged concerns over the racial “disproportionality” of enforcement of lockdown rules.

The disparity was even more pronounced for black and Asian people, who were 1.8 times more likely to be issued fines, analysis of penalties handed out between 27 March and 25 May showed.

Bame men aged between 18 and 34 were over-represented at twice the rate of white men in the same age group.

Martin Hewitt, the chair of the NPCC, admitted the disproportionality was a cause for alarm and would underline concerns about racial bias in policing.

He said: “While it is a complex picture, it is a concern to see disparity between white and black, Asian or ethnic minority people.

“Each force will be looking at this carefully to assess and mitigate any risks of bias – conscious or unconscious – and to minimise disproportionate impact wherever possible.”

English and Welsh police forces issued 17,039 fines during the two months analysed – a rate of only three per 10,000 people. But for Bame people, this rose to a rate of four per 10,000 population, compared with 2.5 among white people. Rates were highest for Asian people – 4.7 per 10,000 – and black people at 4.6.

Seventy per cent of all penalties were issued to men aged under 45, who make up 22 per cent of the population.

Young men aged between 18 and 34, who make up 14 per cent of the population, accounted for 57 per cent of those fines – a rate four times higher than if penalties were issued proportionately across all age groups.

The data shows wide variation across the country, with some forces fining Bame people at the same rate as white people and others 6.5 times higher. Disproportionality was generally greater at rural forces, which police coastal areas and beauty spots that attract tourists.

But the NPCC noted those areas typically had relatively small Bame populations, meaning even a low number of fines issued can lead to a high disparity rate. Cumbria Police fined only three black people, but this was equivalent to a rate of 30 per 10,000 population. The force was one of 20 that issued less than 40 penalties to Bame people in total.

Mr Hewitt said: “Rural and coastal forces that attract tourists issued significantly more FPNs to non-residents, which has significantly affected the level of disparity between white and people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds compared with other forces who issued fewer relatively to non-residents.”

The NPCC chair said many forces had brought in community representatives “to help them scrutinise the circumstances around each FPN and if it has been issued fairly”.

He added: “We are working to develop a plan of action to address issues of inclusion and race equality that still exist in policing – like the lower trust in us from black communities, their concerns about use of powers like stop and search, and the concerns from people of colour within policing about inclusivity and equality at work. The findings of this analysis will be further considered as part of that work.”

But the new figures may fuel calls for a review of the more than 18,600 fines issued for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules over the past four months. More than 40 MPs and peers wrote last month to the NPCC to raise concerns about the “inconsistent and discriminatory” way in which the new laws were enforced.

“There is evidence of racism, discrimination and bias in the issuing of lockdown fixed-penalty notices,” said the letter, signed by politicians including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and acting Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey.

The human rights campaign group Liberty said uneven policing had been “magnified” during the pandemic, “leaving communities of colour over-policed and under-protected in the biggest public health crisis in a generation”.

Liberty published research on Monday showing police use of stop and search in London had risen to its highest level in seven years during the lockdown. Metropolitan Police officers stopped and searched 1,418 people under section 60 orders – which allow the use of the tactic without reasonable suspicion – in May, more than double the figure for the same month last year.

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