Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 90 - 99)



  Q90  Chairman: Good morning. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Jasper, for joining us this morning. I think you have heard most, if not all, of the previous session. Could you begin briefly by introducing yourself to the Committee and then we will go straight to the questions.

  Mr Jasper: Lee Jasper; I am the Policy Director for Equalities and Policing for the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and I also Chair the Trident Independent Advisory Group, a partnership trying to combat gun crime in the black community, and I have recently become a member of the London Criminal Justice Board.

  Q91  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Can I ask you as a general opening question, there is statistically, at least, a striking overrepresentation of young black people in the figures for those accused of crime in London and for those who are being dealt with by youth offending teams. In terms of your role working for the Mayor, what is your response in general to those statistics and how has it influenced the work that you are doing?

  Mr Jasper: It is clear to me that there is a level of racism within the system. I think all our evidence suggests that, when you take account of the level of offending and the likelihood of offending of black communities, and young, black people in particular, they are no more or less likely to offend than any other community. Therefore, the overrepresentation within the criminal justice system is one of emphasis, and that emphasis is on the policing and criminal justice sanctions where offenders are found guilty—and a whole host of other factors. Sitting on the London Criminal Justice Board and as Chair of the Race and Diversity Action Group for the LCJB, I make it my business to find out the statistics in very great detail for London and there is striking overrepresentation, and it cannot be explained, in my mind, by anything other than the level of institutionalised racism in the service. That is not to say that there are not black people who offend (of course there are, and they get treated accordingly), but there is such a striking overrepresentation to be a significant concern for me and a significant concern for the London Criminal Justice Board to be taking proactive action to get to the bottom of the level of disproportionality: because although we think what we know, those are based on figures that are not a full reporting set of figures from the criminal justice system. These are usually partial figures with not full compliance rates around monitoring and ethnicity, and I suggest that, when we get to the point when we have full monitoring, we will see even more striking levels of disproportionality revealed as a consequence of a robust ethnic monitoring system. Those are the perceptions that I have. I think it is a crisis. I think it is a crisis for the black community in London, I think it is a crisis for London's criminal justice agencies that there is such a level of disproportionality and really it requires very urgent action indeed, and I think that is the other point I would like to make. I am not impressed by the commitment that I see from not all but from some of the criminal justice agencies to tackling this issue. It is not a priority for them. I think very many of them are failing in their duty to comply with the basic requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. It is not an issue that is accorded priority. There are exceptions to that, like the National Probation Service, particularly the London Probation Service, who are doing some excellent work on that. The Crown Prosecution Service in terms of its employment practices are doing some work in relation to representation of young, black people being employed and the Metropolitan Police Service, in relation to the employment of black people as police officers, are doing some work, but there remain challenges on the service delivery end, both in terms of stop and search for the Metropolitan Police Service and the disproportionate level of charging of young, black offenders for like-on-like cases where a white offender would receive either a lesser charge, a caution or some other sentence or process at criminal justice level. So, there are mixed messages throughout the system.

  Q92  Chairman: Thank you. That is very helpful. I hope we will cover most, if not all of the issues that you have highlighted for us there in the time ahead of us this morning. You have just said that young, black people are no more or less likely to offend than other young people. One of the things that does seem to be clear from the statistics is that there are differences in the pattern of crime, at least as represented by those who go into the criminal justice system. Young, white people, for example, are more likely to commit burglary than young, black people but young, black people who appear in London are much more likely to be accused of, or arrested for, robbery in London. I think there are eight black youths accused for every white person accused of robbery in London, and similarly with sexual offences. Are those, in your view, real differences in the pattern of offending that are being shown by the statistics in London, or is it a reflection of the institutional racism that you have just talked about?

  Mr Jasper: I think it is a complex mix of both, to be honest. I think the reality is that there are some areas where young, black people are overrepresented. You have mentioned robbery and sexual offences. On the issue of robbery, is that because of the way in which profiling takes place within policing to focus police activity on where they think they will get their greatest results? On sexual offences is it the reality of maybe a propensity for young, black women, and black women in general, to report sexual offences, have a lower tolerance level, or a lack of reporting of sexual offences in the wider community? All those things need to be taken into account, but I think you are right to suggest that there are areas of overrepresentation that deserve more scrutiny and more exploration; and there are disproportionalities in white offenders being involved in racist attacks on black victims, there are disproportionalities in homicide within both communities, domestic violence, rape, violent crime, faith hate crime and others. The issue is, where you find that level of disproportionality, either as a result of offending activity or policing emphasis, how is it that is being reflected throughout the system in all other areas? I think that the sort of experience that I have, and the black community's perception very strongly, is that there is a focused effort around policing around certain crimes which produces a disproportionate effect. That is certainly a very strong perception in the black community.

  Q93  Chairman: To take that point a bit further, if you look at the statistics over say the past 10 years, some types of crime, like burglary, have fallen very substantially (40 or 45%) across the country as a whole. Other crimes, like street robbery, in which, at least on the statistical basis, young, black people are more likely to be involved, have actually been on a rising trend and have occasionally fallen and have gone up again, and so on. Is it necessarily unreasonable for the police to be putting greater effort into certain types of crime which do not appear to have fallen, in terms of recorded crime figures or British Crime Survey figures, compared with other types of crime we have, and is it not reasonable for them to pursue that even if, as a consequence of that, it is to be entirely disproportionate to young, black people because it is a type of crime in which young, black people seem to be more likely to be involved?

  Mr Jasper: You have to balance that with those crimes not solved and the ethnicity of those who are purported to have committed those crimes to make a proper and adequate judgment. Part of the problem here is the lack of research capability within the criminal justice service to answer these very important questions. I do not think it is unreasonable. I am Chair of Operation Trident. We demanded, as a black community, a proper policing response around the issue of black-on-black gun crime, because we thought (and it was the community's perception at that time) that these cases were not being treated seriously and neither was there any effort being put in, in terms of equality and professional policing and response, to solve them, and we demanded that of the police. I can accept where it is a disproportionate problem where both the community and the police have done their homework and have come to a consensus about that issue, then specific activity, I think, is appropriate. The problem is that the overwhelming level of disproportionality and overrepresentation across the system cannot be attributed to that type of activity.

  Q94  Mr Winnick: Mr Jasper, you welcome the inquiry?

  Mr Jasper: Yes.

  Q95  Mr Winnick: Presumably on the basis of what the Mayor told us, that the Committee, he says, has chosen a most pressing and important issue to investigate. Presumably, you reject the criticism which has been made, which perhaps is not familiar to you, of some organisation (which is perhaps more white than black) that this is an inappropriate inquiry?

  Mr Jasper: I think it is entirely appropriate. Both myself and the Mayor have commended the Committee for choosing this area of focus. We have, quite literally, a crisis in the black community amongst our young, black people. It very rarely gets the opportunity to be discussed. I am really appreciative that we have an opportunity here to discuss it, and those who would criticise such an emphasis have a real lack of understanding of the internal community dynamics of the black community. This is a debate which is both timely and appropriate, in my view.

  Q96  Mr Winnick: The Committee would certainly welcome your remarks. The Mayor's letter draws attention to the high level of young blacks accused of supply and possession of drugs. What do you consider is driving drug use amongst young, black people in London? Is it particularly driving young, black people or would it be right to say white no less than black?

  Mr Jasper: I do not think it is a particular issue for the black community. I think when you look at the various patterns of drug usage and drugs testing for offenders who are brought to justice, you see that there is both level evidence of drug use across deprived communities, whatever their ethnicity. I think that invariably we do have the unfortunate collocation of high levels of black youth unemployment situated in precisely the same places where there are multi-million pound drug markets on the streets of London. That drives that activity to a certain extent, where we have a crisis such as I spoke about earlier. We have young people who are completely cut adrift from society, alienated from its values, who see life very much through the prism of their own experience of being completely a double-standard, who do not see their family, friends, their elder brothers, aunts and cousins, nieces and nephews getting the opportunity that their hard work and educational endeavour ought to deserve and, therefore, make a conscious choice to opt out. In those circumstances a multi-million pound drug industry can be a powerful seducer of young people into that sort of drug activity across the board.

  Q97  Mr Winnick: There is a perception, I think, arising from what you said—I do not know whether you would agree with this, but presumably not—that the suppliers of drugs and those who make a very nice profit from such despicable activities are more, perhaps, black than white. Would you say that is not the position?

  Mr Jasper: I would say categorically it is not the position. I think any routine examination of wholesale importation of cocaine into this country will invariably show you that the major importers are not Afro-Caribbean, not black British, for the purposes of the definition of this inquiry, but are invariably of other nationalities or, indeed, white Europeans. They are the major importers of class A drugs into communities and they are the major importers and converters of armoury and guns into the black community. That is certainly borne out by the activities of the Operation Trident team, who have made arrests around the periphery of London of very many of white criminals who have been engaged in the supply and conversion of regular and converted weapons into the black community. I think that where you begin to unpack the criminality in terms of its ethnicity, if that is what we are seeking to do, then you get an unfocused balance of policing activity on the street end dealing without a consequent focus on level two and level three activity, as it is called in the National Police Intelligence model, which is about the importation and wholesale distribution of crack cocaine and class A drugs in London.

  Q98  Mr Winnick: If you take an area like Brixton, where there is a relatively large black population, would it be right to say that the activity of drug dealing, and the rest of it, is more common than in other parts of London?

  Mr Jasper: I would not know whether that is the case in terms of its level of activity. There is certainly, to a degree, a high level of activity in Brixton and there is certainly a high level of activity in other black community areas, but I also know of white areas where there are similar levels of activity but less focus in terms of its policing, and so on. There are areas throughout the country, for instance, in Liverpool, in Newcastle, in Sunderland, where we would know there are very great problems of consumption of heroin.

  Q99  Mr Winnick: And black communities much less?

  Mr Jasper: And black communities much less. I think it is a differing picture right round the country. Nevertheless, we do have a particular problem in black communities.

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