Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches

Black people living in the Bristol area were almost eight times more likely to be given a fine for breaching coronavirus lockdown than white people, new figures from the police have shown.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which published the analysis, said there were many caveats to the data, but admitted that even after ‘real caution’ is taken in interpreting the data, it was ‘of great concern’ that black people were disproportionately more likely to be given a penalty notice by officers than white people or other people from an ethnic minority.

Avon and Somerset police have responded to the national police’s own data by explaining that the relatively small number of fines issued may have led to a disparity.

The police also said that they recognised they could have an issue early on in lockdown, so began reviewing the body-worn video from police officers’ own cameras of every time a fixed penalty notice was given, and that had resulted in a ‘decrease in disproportionality’.

What are the figures?

The figures have been issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the national body of police force chief constables across England and Wales.

They cover a period of just under two months, from March 27 in the first week of coronavirus lockdown, to May 25, when restrictions began to be eased and police forces effectively stopped issuing lockdown breach fines.

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches 2 - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches
Park Street was one of the places where police made random checks
(Image: PA)

March 27 was the day police set up a roadblock on Park Street to stop motorists, and began trying to enforce the coronavirus lockdown with statements emphasising that they would be issuing fines as a last resort.

Over the course of the next couple of months, there were high profile cases of apparent breaches of lockdown – including illegal street parties, mass gatherings and controversial images of large numbers of people picnicking at places like Ashton Court, or drinking on the harbourside.

In that time until May 25, officers from Avon and Somerset police issued a total of 330 fines for breaking lockdown rules.

The May 25 cut off is around the time when the police pulled back from issuing fixed penalty notices. This date was a fortnight before the Black Lives Matter march that included the statue of Edward Colston being pulled down.

During that two month period, they issued fines only very rarely – only in two per cent, or one in 50, of the complaints about lockdown breaches the police attended did they end up issuing a fine.

Of those 330 penalty notices for breaching lockdown regulations, a total of 253 were issued to people whose ethnicity was recorded as white. The other 71 fines were issued to people from ethnic minorities.

This means that more than 21 per cent of the fines issued to people by police in Avon and Somerset were issued to black or ethnic minority people, even though in the Avon and Somerset force area, only 6.8 per cent of people are BAME.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council calculated the figures as a ratio of fines per 10,000 people in each population group.

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches 3 - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches
Avon and Somerset Police officers chat to people in a park in Bristol
(Image: PA)

Based on this, police issued 1.6 fines to every 10,000 white people in Avon and Somerset, but 6.3 fines for every 10,000 people from ethnic minorities. That’s at a rate that’s 3.9 times higher for BAME people than for white people.

The numbers for black people

The figures from the NPCC don’t just lump all people of colour together as ‘BAME’, it is broken down to specific ethnicity, including black, mixed ethnicity and Asian and Chinese people.

Avon and Somerset issued 36 fines to black people, which is a rate of 12.4 per 10,000 people.

The police issued 20 fines to Asian and Chinese people, a rate of 4.4 per 10,000, and 13 to people of mixed ethnicity – a rate of 6.5 per 10,000.

That high rate of 12.4 for black people, albeit from a relatively small number of 36 fines over two months, is almost eight times (7.75x) the rate for white people in Avon and Somerset.

Visitors breaking lockdown rules

One of the biggest caveats being put on the figures by both the NPCC and Avon and Somerset police, apart from that the relatively small numbers might not be completely representative, is that there is a difference between the statistics of fines given by Avon and Somerset police to local people and those given to visitors from a different part of the country, who have come to Avon and Somerset, breached lockdown rules and been fined by the local police here.

Avon and Somerset’s own figures reveal that of the 71 fines they issued to people from a black or ethnic minority background, 30 of them were issued to people who don’t live in Avon and Somerset and were visiting at the time.

A police spokesperson told Bristol Live that the figure of 3.9 times more fines for BAME people proportionately dropped to 3.1 times when you take out the fixed penalty notices given to people who don’t live in Avon and Somerset.

The NPCC highlighted this issue as a caveat that affected many forces with seaside resorts.

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches 4 - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches
Police have fined people on the M5 in Gloucestershire for breaking the coronavirus lockdown restrictions
(Image: Gloucestershire Police)

“Real caution in interpretation of local disparity rates is required given the small numbers involved in some force areas,” the council’s chair Martin Hewitt said.

“Rural and coastal forces that attract tourists issued significantly more fixed penalty notices 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,” he added.

Avon and Somerset said this phenomenon – of BAME people going to more rural areas with comparatively low levels of diversity, and being fined for lockdown breaches ‘has had an impact on the disproportionality levels’.

Did that work the other way?

Were BAME people more likely to be fined for breaching lockdown regulations if they went somewhere else?

Based on where people live, rather than where they were fined, 430 fines were issued to people from Avon and Somerset, either close to home or elsewhere in the country.

That was at a rate of 2.1 per 10,000 White people, and 7.4 per 10,000 people from ethnic minority backgrounds, 3.5 times higher. Based on a small number of fines, that suggests that both white people and BAME people were more likely to be fined when they went out of the area.

Black and other ethnic minority (BAME) residents of Avon and Somerset were 3.2 times more likely to be fined by the police force than White residents, while BAME non-residents were 7.7 times more likely to be fined than White non-residents.

Most people from Avon and Somerset were fined for breaching lockdown in Avon and Somerset – some 267 of them, but 41 people from Avon and Somerset were fined in Dyfed-Powys, 39 in Dorset and 34 by Devon and Cornwall police.

Why were black people more likely to be fined?

For decades, statistics have shown that black people are proportionately more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, arrested, charged and given stiffer sentences within the criminal justice system, and for decades, campaigners have pointed out this disparity and called it systemic racism within institutions like the police force and the courts.

The chair of the NPCC said it was ‘a concern to see disparity’, but had another suggested explanation for the coronavirus lockdown fines issue.

“For a number of forces, continued focus on crime and violence could affect their disparity rate as areas that have been a focus of police activity are also areas with a higher concentration of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, which also increases the possibility of officers identifying and dealing with breaches during those deployments,” said Martin Hewitt, the NPCC’s chair.

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches 5 - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches
Police chat with passers by in St George’s Park (April 14)
(Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

“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. Many forces have brought in community representatives to help them scrutinise the circumstances around each FPN and if it has been issued fairly,” he added.

The difference between Avon and Somerset

A lengthy statement issued by the police pointed out that, overall, Avon and Somerset has a BAME population of 6.8 per cent, which is less than half the national average. In Somerset it’s just two per cent and Chief Insp Paul Wigginton said this means ‘even a small number of fixed penalty notices issued to BAME people will lead to relatively high disparity rates’.

Avon and Somerset is a police force of two areas – Avon and Somerset. In Bristol, between one in five and one in six people are from a black or ethnic minority background, while in Somerset the figure is closer to one in 50.

Unfortunately, the National Police Chiefs Council did not issue a breakdown of figures that separates Bristol from rural Somerset.

What do Avon and Somerset police say?

Chief Insp Wigginton said that when the police were tasked with enforcing the lockdown in those difficult early days of late March, and were given the power to fine people for breaching it, they recognised there was a ‘risk of community concern’ that, like stop and search statistics, lockdown fines would end up being disproportionately imposed on black people.

“From the outset, we recognised that enforcement alone would not achieve compliance and we’ve worked hard to engage with key stakeholders such as Independent Advisory Groups, faith groups and community leaders for assistance in reinforcing the need to comply with all of our communities,” he said.

“Translations of the regulations have also been produced to mitigate language barrier issues and these have been shared through community groups and partner agencies.

“When the COVID-19 regulations came in, we recognised there was a risk of community concern relating to how we would enforce the new legislation, along with the risk of a disproportionate impact on BAME members of the public,” he added.

black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches 6 - Black people 8 times more likely to be fined for lockdown breaches
(Image: PA)

“This is why we introduced daily scrutiny of enforcement through a review of the circumstances and the Body Worn Video (BWV) of each fixed penalty notice (FPN), so we could identify and address any issues swiftly.

“This led to greater consistency across the force area when it came to issuing FPNs and led to a decrease in disproportionality. We’re carrying out further analytical work to better understand the causes of this disproportionality.

“The Scrutiny of Police Powers Panel (SOPP) – an independent panel made up of people from across our communities – was invited to review the circumstances in which FPNs were issued and given the opportunity to review officers’ Body Worn Video footage.

“The feedback we’ve had from the panel about our application of the new legislation has been largely positive and supportive of the action taken and their input has had a direct impact in achieving a more consistent approach.

“All officers attending reports of regulation breaches have, in the first instance, always looked to engage, explain and encourage people to comply with enforcement only ever taken as a last resort. It’s important to note FPNs have only been issued in 2% of reported breaches,” he added.

It was young people too

“Our scrutiny of FPN enforcement also highlighted a disparity in terms of age and gender, with young males more likely to be given an FPN,” said Chief Insp Wigginton.

“This is why we worked closely with partners like the Creative Youth Network to reach out and influence young people.

Coronavirus latest

“This work was particularly effective over Easter, when we were able to engage in outreach work in parks and open green spaces, along with other identified hotspot areas.

“This work ultimately helped us achieve lower levels of FPNs in parks and open spaces, which would have impacted more on people who didn’t have a garden or a private open space to use during lockdown,” he added.

Back to: Home Bristol News

You may also like...