Met’s anti-violence scheme mostly targeted teenagers and Black people

uk police undertaking traffic stops in which they fingerprint motorist using a mobile scanner
The operation bears similarities to the Met's controversial Gang's Matrix, campaigners say

Reports Mirren Gidda and Fiona Hamilton, Crime and Security editor of the Times. Edited by Eleanor Rose, Liberty Investigates editor.


A highly publicised Metropolitan Police programme to tackle hundreds of the capital’s “most violent offenders” primarily targeted teenagers and Black people, Freedom of Information (FOI) responses reveal.

The scheme was predicted to be so racially disproportionate that the Met considered not running it, while campaigners compared it to the constabulary’s controversial Gang’s Violence Matrix.

Operation Pima was spearheaded by the Met’s new Violence Suppression Units (VSUs) from 11 May to 10 July 2020 during which the VSUs visited or attempted to visit 758 people linked through internal Met reports with violent crimes. Officers – many of whom were new recruits still on probation –  offered them training, education, or employment programmes. The Met said it then reviewed whether subjects, including those never visited, committed an offence in the interim.

In FOI responses to Liberty Investigates, the editorially independent journalism unit of the human rights organisation Liberty, the Met described the 758 people as “the most prolific or violent offenders” known to the force. But disclosures reveal 61 percent were 18 or under, while 15 percent were under 16. Sixty-one percent on the list were Black, despite the fact Black people make up only 13 percent of the capital’s population.

“The data shows worrying disproportionality and appears to be yet another example of the Met treating young Black people unfairly,” said Caroline Russell, Green Party London Assembly Member who sits on the Mayor’s Police and Crime Committee, calling on the Met to review the units. “It doesn’t seem credible that the young people involved are supposed to be some of the ‘most violent offenders in London’, given that well over half of them are 18 or under, and so many are under 16.”


of those targeted by Operation Pima were aged 18 or under. 61% were Black

To be listed for a visit under Pima, a person needed to be identified in no fewer than four internal crime or intelligence reports related to knife crime, gun crime, night-time economy and personal robbery offences. But they didn’t have to be labelled as an offender – they could just be a suspect.

The inclusion of intelligence reports in the criteria appears to have concerned the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), which sets the direction and budget for the Met, because intelligence received by police can be spurious. Consulted for the Met’s Equality Impact Assessment (EIA), which laid out Pima’s predicted impacts on protected groups, MOPAC noted that “groups we linked in on for [the Gang’s Violence Matrix] will point out that intel is not factual”.

In December 2018, MOPAC publicly recommended the Matrix be comprehensively overhauled. Their report included community concerns that people often didn’t know they were on the database and couldn’t challenge their inclusion; that it breached data protection laws; and that it listed a disproportionate number of young Black men. In its EIA for Operation Pima, the Met wrote that “due to the extent of the [racial] disproportionality a consideration was made to not run the operation at all.”

As with the Matrix, some of the people identified as part of Pima were apparently unaware of their inclusion on the list, which was shared in part with some local authorities. The Met told Liberty Investigates through FOI disclosures that some people it intended to visit received no contact from police at their homes, yet it still kept tabs for a year on their subsequent offending.

Others were sent a letter with the headline “Police Appeal – Help Prevent Violence”. It made no mention of Operation Pima, the involvement of the VSUs, nor the subsequent review of their activities. The letter, which offered recipients “music, sport, education, training or employment”, also did not mention a point that a charity claimed the Met raised with them: that an individual’s refusal to participate could be brought up in future court appearances. This could impact hundreds of people: only 82 subjects expressed an interest in Pima’s diversionary programmes.

"Police processes, policies and procedures need to be fair and transparent, and this operation was anything but"

Katrina Ffrench, founder and director of UNJUST

Habib Kadiri, policy and research manager at police monitoring group StopWatch, was skeptical of the scheme’s purported benefits. “It is concerning for a police force to judge individuals by an arbitrary definition of a ‘violent offender’. Their targets were also unaware of the Hobson’s choice implication of refusing the ‘diversionary opportunities’ on offer,” said Kadiri.

Katrina Ffrench, founder and director of UNJUST, which challenges unfair policing, said: “Police processes, policies and procedures need to be fair and transparent, and this operation was anything but.”

Met Commander Alex Murray, the Met’s violence lead, said: “Our priority is to prevent and tackle violence in the capital and Londoners would rightly expect us to seek every opportunity to do this. Operation Pima was a specific operation run during lockdown where officers had the unique opportunity to reach individuals while they were at home.

“The core aim of Operation Pima was to meet with individuals and encourage them to take up diversion opportunities to reduce re-offending and ultimately stop people getting hurt. The meetings were voluntary and positive, giving an opportunity for officers to show that we understand the value of diversion and not just enforcement and prosecution.

“Young black males were not specifically targeted in anyway. Street violence in the capital however does disproportionately affect boys and young men, particularly of African-Caribbean heritage.  We would therefore expect to see this reflected in who we visited. It would simply be wrong of us to decide not to engage with someone and offer opportunities based on their ethnicity and heritage.”

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said he was “fully committed” to holding the Met to account over disproportionality relating to ethnicity. “His Action Plan to improve confidence and trust in policing – particularly from Black Londoners – has already introduced stricter oversight of the use of stop and search in London – strengthened community monitoring, officer supervision and input into police training,” they said.

This article was published in partnership with the Times