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Lockdown fine data doesn't show complex reality, says NPCC

FIxed Penalty Notices (FPNs) data for the COVID-19 lockdown is too complex to confirm racial bias, the NPCC has claimed. The revised figures show BAME people were 1.6 times more likely to gets a ticket but police say there are too many factors involved.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has published its data on fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued for COVID-19 rule infringements after a review by the Government Statistical Service.

The NPCC claimed the revised data demanded by campaigners and MPs doesn’t include hundreds of thousands of situations where no action was taken and doesn’t show where community relations are poor.

They also said most fines were handed to people from outside the area.

The review was ordered after criticism from MPS and claims by campaigners that the police had been racially profiling offenders.

Researchers concluded BAME people were issued with a FPN at a rate of 1.6 times higher than white people.

But the NPCC said the reality was more complex. Most tickets were issued to young men aged 18-34 years old who make up 14% of the resident population but accounted for 57% of tickets.

The NPCC said there were other elements that needed to be taken into consideration. Notices were issued to people who were found to be outside the area they live in.

The data also does not include the total number of incidents that ended with no fines being issued – which the NPCC says runs into tens of thousands.

The number of FPNs issued was relatively low – 17,039 in total and a rate across all of England and Wales equivalent to 3 per 10,000 resident population.

The NPCC claimed that the number of people involved was so small that statistical anomalies were possible. It said one police force had issued FPNs at a rate of 30 per 10,000 to black individuals. However, because of the small number of black residents of the force area this was the product of only three FPNs issued to black people. If one less, or one more FPN had been issued to a black person in that county this would have changed the rate from 30 per 10,000 to 20 and 40 per 10,000 respectively indicating how sensitive the rates are to small changes in such areas.

Enforcement was higher in tourist areas and other factors included fines being issued as part of wider enforcement action such as work in areas of violent crime.

NPCC Chairman Martin Hewitt said: “For a number of forces, continued focus on crime and violence could affect their disparity rate as areas of 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. In communities or groups with lower trust in police, attempts to encourage before enforcing may be less successful.”

There were 20 forces that each issued less than 40 FPNs in total to BAME people, which is much less than one FPN to a BAME person across the entire force per day in each of these areas.

Data collection remains a significant issue for many forces and the enforcement legislation was brought in so fast that there was no agreement across all forces on how data would be agreed. There are two approaches of recording ethnicity – and there are forces that higher levels of missing data as a result.

This led to a delay in the NPCC being able to share its data analysis with MPs on the Home Affairs select committee who are investigating police relations with the BAME communities.

Mr Hewitt said it was up to local people to decide whether they believed the force had been proportionate.

“This data presents only a partial picture as it does not show the hundreds of thousands of interactions with the public where engagement, explanation and encouragement was effective and there was no need to issue a fine,” he said.

 “The analysis in this report is complex and needs be interpreted carefully – the data available makes drawing definitive conclusions about disproportionality challenging and comparisons between forces are difficult due to their varying local contexts.”  

Police and Crime Commissioners, who have set up a group to respond to public criticism about diversity in police forces, backed the NPCC's analysis.

APCC Race Disparity Group Chair Julia Mulligan said: "Policing is rightly reflecting on itself at the moment, asking difficult but important questions. However, a number of concerns remain, and the data does not fully explain what has actually happened in communities around the country.

She added: “It is vital that police forces look long and hard at the reasons for disparity, where it exists. For example, in my own area there is evidence of a clear bias, showing young Asian males were far more likely to have been issued an FPN than our demographics would suggest. This is down to a range of specific local circumstances, which may or may not be replicated in other areas. I am confident that North Yorkshire Police are taking this seriously and we all need to be confident that this is happening across the piece.”

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