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Rights groups sound alarm over growing militarization of UK police

 

British police forces are becoming rapidly militarized and increasingly relying on coercive methods to monitor the public, according to a report released on Thursday.

Published by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), the report says the hyper-militarization of British police has blurred the lines between the traditional police force and the military, leading to a “war mentality” among different agencies.

“This report busts the myth that the police in the UK govern, or have ever governed, by consent. It lays out what those from marginalized communities know all too well, that institutionalized and structural racism results in over-policing, excessive force and disproportionate criminalization,” Emily Apple, communications coordinator at Netpol, said.

“With the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, we’re more likely to see increased criminalization and surveillance of protesters. It’s down to all of us to monitor what the police are doing and to defend our right to dissent,” Apple added.

The report, titled A Very British Problem: The Evolution of Britain’s Militarized Policing Industrial Complex, reveals the increased use of hi-tech surveillance tools, such as phone data extraction technology, mobile fingerprint scanners and live facial recognition technology.

CAAT and Netpol have expressed concerns that such technology is being rolled out and enforced in the absence of parliamentary oversight and a governing body that sets out guidelines on how such technology should be used and which agency should be responsible for enforcing it.

“The police are increasingly relying on hi-tech, data-driven and military-grade technology to surveil the British population,” said Keren Weitzberg, the author of the report.

CAAT research coordinator Sam Perlo-Freeman warned that “policing in the UK is becoming steadily more repressive.”

“But it’s not just about what the UK is doing to its own citizens. The UK trains foreign police and security services, especially around border control,” he added.

Key areas of concern

Sectors of the UK security and policing establishment that are experiencing this militarization include counterterrorism units, immigration authorities and border patrol, according to the report.

In recent years, UK police have been granted more powers to use excessive force against demonstrators and as a result the right to protest has been significantly eroded, the report said.

“Black activists are disproportionately subjected to excessive police force. Armed counterterrorism units, immigration enforcement and UK Border Force draw directly from the military handbook,” it added.

“Police officers are increasingly acting like border guards working with the Home Office to carry out immigration control.”

On the issue of surveillance, powerful new surveillance technologies have favored the state over its citizens and are aimed at “preemptive policing.”

This approach justifies the indiscriminate use of technology and increased surveillance in the name of crime prevention, the report said, adding that these new technologies amplify racist, sexist and classist police practices.

Hyper-militarization is more evident in the areas of border control and counterterrorism, it added.

As part of its recommendations, the report called for more oversight of policing practices and procedures, urging the government to implement a system of checks and balances and to delineate the powers and responsibilities of different agencies.

“While the developments described in this report are deeply troubling, the hyper-militarization of British policing agencies has not gone uncontested. Militarized policing is a longstanding British phenomenon with deep roots in the country’s past. It’s time for Brits to face up to our very British problems,” the report said.​​​​​​​

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