MOPAC calls for ‘comprehensive overhaul’ of Gangs Matrix

The Mayor of London has ordered reforms of the Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS’s) database of gang members and victims to bring it into line with data protection legislation. 

Dec 21, 2018
By Neil Root
Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan said that while the database has a positive impact on reducing offending or being a victim of violence, the way it “is applied and enforced is a cause for concern”. 

Nine recommendations are made following a Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime (MOPAC) review, including “investigation into whether a disproportionate number of young black men on the Matrix is legitimate”. 

The Gangs Matrix overhaul must be completed by December 31, 2019. 

The database was established by the MPS following the 2011 riots in London “to identify those at risk of committing, or being a victim of, gang-related violence in London”.  

But there has been controversy regarding the way that individuals are added to it, removed and the way that removed data is stored, as well as concerns about it being discriminatory towards certain communities, leading to mistrust in the police and heightened tensions. 

The review published on Friday (December 21) found that reductions in offending are sustained even after an individual is removed from the Matrix and a person’s involvement with the police does drop after being removed from it. 

However, it also identified that “the representation of young black men on the database is disproportionate to their likelihood of either causing or being a victim of gang violence and communities have deep reservations about how it operates”. 

This is reinforced by the finding that “three quarters of those on the Matrix were under the age of 25, and that 80 per cent were black.  

It also found significant issues in the public’s understanding of the matrix and a lack of transparency by the MPS in communicating its aims and the purpose, both to the public and local authorities. 

The review revealed “inconsistencies and gaps in the management, processes and oversight of the Gangs Matrix across London”. 

And it highlighted that “on average a person spends more than two years on the Matrix and at any time 38 per cent have a zero-harm score – reflecting the lowest risk of committing violence”. 

The review, on which MOPAC worked closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office, looked at detailed analysis of more than 7,000 people who have been on the Gangs Matrix, together with surveys of frontline local authority staff and those in communities directly affected by violence.  

It said the “complete overhaul” needs to ensure that the right people are on the database; people are added and removed in a standardised, evidence-based manner; they can be removed and that the ‘gang’ label will not follow them; local Matrices are refreshed regularly so that individuals do not stay on any longer than necessary; the guidance on the use of social media for intelligence purposes is updated; and data protection principles and legislation are fully applied. 

Other recommendations made include MOPAC and the MPS engaging with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, supporting the MPS’ work to further assess issues around human rights, disproportionality and produce an Equalities Impact Assessment. 

The MPS is also recommended to “strengthen their governance of the Matrix and the officers and partners that use it, creating single points of responsibility on each Borough Command Unit”, primarily to ensure that there is no discriminatory practice. 

The MPS should also “improve systematic data capture across all aspects of the Matrix process”, including demographics of individuals related to gender, age and ethnicity, the nature and extent of police activity for those on the it, and the nature and extent of non-enforcement interventions. 

MOPAC and the MPS will also “conduct an annual review of the Matrix population, in comparison with the wider London gang and violent offending profiles”. 

The MPS should also “urgently improve its current Matrix processes to ensure that personal data and information are stored, managed, shared, protected and transmitted safely and appropriately”. 

The MPS also needs to improve transparency by producing, by the end of February 2019, publicly available, plain English and accessible information that explains how the Matrix works and its purpose. 

Sadiq Khan said: “I made a firm commitment to Londoners to carry out a full review of the Met’s Gangs Matrix with the aim of restoring trust and confidence in the way it is used by the police.  

“The review has shown that the Gangs Matrix can be an effective enforcement tool and is helping to tackle violence on our streets.  

“But to many Londoners, the way it is applied and enforced is a cause for concern and it needs to be comprehensively overhauled to ensure it is used lawfully and proportionately.   

“By implementing the review’s nine recommendations, the Matrix can address the serious breaches of data protection laws and ensure only those at genuine risk of causing or being a victim of violence are included.  

“It’s important these recommendations are carried out quickly and transparently to ensure Londoners have confidence in how it is used by the Met.”          

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball of MPS Operations said: “This report shows that the Gangs Matrix is a very effective operational tool that can reduce violent crime and assist in diverting young gang members from offending.  

“Importantly, it has also shown the positive impact that it has in reducing victimisation through gang violence. Young black men are disproportionately represented as victims of serious violence and this is an unacceptable position that needs to be addressed. The Matrix helps inform us in doing this. 

“The research in the report also shows that when subjects are removed from the Gang Matrix there is a reduction in the number of times they are stopped and searched. This dispels some rumours that ex-gang members continue to be targeted even when they are removed from the Gangs Matrix. 

“We accept that we have work to do in order to ensure public confidence in our use of information and data. The report today has further highlighted our commitment to working with the Mayor’s Office, the Information Commissioner’s Office and other partners to ensure that the recommendations within the report are taken forward. 

“The Met is totally committed to improving public confidence and transparency and we will keep the public updated on the progress we are making. We will also be exploring further ways of working with partners to diverting more young people away from gangs.” 


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