The London Assembly Police and Crime Committee has launched an investigation into the policing and security arrangements of the Notting Hill Carnival, asking the following questions: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the security arrangements at Notting Hill Carnival? What improvements can be made to security arrangements? What lessons can be learned from other large scale events? What more can the Mayor do to support the agencies responsible for keeping Carnival safe? StopWatch and Release share our response here.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the security arrangements at Notting Hill Carnival?
Strengths: Police generally tolerate drinking of alcohol, suspected cannabis possession and other low-priority issues during this period.
Weaknesses: There are still disproportionate stops, searches and arrests of either innocent people, or people suspected of low-priority crimes, such as cannabis possession or unlicensed sale of goods. This problem is particularly pronounced for African and African-Caribbean visitors of Carnival, for whom the event is supposed to celebrate. Whilst police general tolerate suspected cannabis possession in particular, this seems to be less applicable to those from the African-Caribbean community.
What improvements can be made to security arrangements?
Low priority crimes, such as cannabis possession or unlicensed sale of goods should not be used as grounds for stops, searches or arrests. Indeed, latest guidance states that the smell of cannabis on its own does not make up reasonable grounds for a stop and search.
As the HMIC assessment of Operation Blunt 2 found, there is little to no evidence that stop and search operates as a deterrent against violent crime. However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that stop and search aggravates members of the public, heightening the likelihood of conflict.
The best role of the police is to take a hands-off approach, working with local community organisations so that they can take the lead in monitoring crowds and assessing potential disturbances.
What lessons can be learned from other large scale events?
There are two types of event which are comparable to Carnival:
- Street-based celebrations, such as royal jubilees or royal weddings can, according to police, constitute a significant security threat. However, there have been no proposals to make such cultural celebrations ticketed, or cut off from the streets which make such celebrations genuinely public, and in the spirit of the occasion.
- Music festivals are a growing phenomena in this country, and while recreational drug use and crime also feature at these events, the intensity of policing is far-lower. Treating attendees of Carnival with the same dignity and respect as attendees to the aforementioned events would also go some way to improving security. Indeed, even Glastonbury, which last year saw proportionally more arrests than Carnival, was praised by police for its low arrest rate.
The policing of carnivals, street-based celebrations and music festivals should represent the desires of the community who are being policed, rather than concerns based on political rhetoric, cultural bias or the criminalisation of Black communities who are overpoliced and underprotected.
It should also be noted that the cost to the taxpayer of running large events, and other important cultural events, such as football matches, is rarely so central to discussions such as these. StopWatch and Release feel that it is Carnival's association of African Caribbean people, that questions as to how much should be spent on such a community, have become so central to this discussion. Such disparities are particularly concerning, given the spirit of anti-racist activism, upon which Carnival was established.
There is also no mention of the estimated £93m Carnival makes for London, making the information that accompanies this consultation somewhat misleading.
What more can the Mayor do to support the agencies responsible for keeping Carnival safe?
Public engagement campaigns regarding the history, and social significance of Carnival.
Working with local community organisations, and African Caribbean community groups in London more generally, to help monitor and mediate activities or potential problems during Carnival.
Directly addressing the racist undercurrents in the media coverage, political rhetoric and approach to policing (both at force level and nationally) which marks Carnival, in a manner which does not mark crime or instances of violence at football matches, music festivals or other public celebrations.
Rather than facilitating large corporations in running food/drinks stalls and music stands/stages at Carnival, which erodes the family/community atmosphere of the event, the smaller, independent retailers and artists who have traditionally serviced the Carnival should have the resources (subsidies, equipment or necessary accreditation), to continue this tradition. It is this culture of family and community which can engender a safer and more respectful environment, for everyone to enjoy Carnival.