The Metropolitan Police has been criticised for a tweeted video outlining a recent operation in which officers were shown swabbing members of the public for drugs in Shoreditch, London. Britain’s largest police force posted a tweet on the evening of January 2nd which quickly began to draw criticism from Twitter users concerned with the draconian tactics officers appeared to be using.
Taskforce Officers were out recently doing drug swabs in Shoreditch as part of a wider operation to ensure the night time economy is a safe place for all pic.twitter.com/UtMbayPwpt
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) January 2, 2022
The text of the tweet read, “Taskforce Officers were out recently doing drug swabs in Shoreditch as part of a wider operation to ensure the night time economy is a safe place for all”. The tweet also contained a video that showed uniformed officers patrolling the vibrant streets of Shoreditch en-masse stopping young adult males and swabbing their hands.
The tweet drew widespread criticism from members of the public, many of whom were quick to point out that the force may have more success swabbing outside Westminster. Others highlighted that the video was edited to show a force of white male officers stopping people who appeared to be mostly non-white.
However, the majority of concern surrounded the legality of the action, with people questioning whether the police had any right to stop and demand a swab, and what action refusal could lead to. At the time of the tweet it was reported in the media that 250 people had voluntarily been swabbed and that one woman was arrested for possession of a Class A drug.
After leafie contacted the Met for more information about the operation, it was revealed that the swab tests were not completely voluntary, and were in fact a prerequisite for entry to one of the two nightclubs that the taskforce had liaised with beforehand.
In an email, the Met Press Office said that the operation in Shoreditch was part of a wider “week of action” in which officers were tasked with supporting the “safety of women” between Monday 6th December and Sunday 12th December 2021. The extra police activity included, “safety patrols of the night time economy, as well as tackling unlicensed minicabs, and attending schools to speak to staff and students”.
The statement went on to explain that “Officers across the Met came together to work in areas which have seen a spike in incidents where women and girls have been made to feel unsafe or have been victims of crime, and we know there is an inextricable link between Class A drugs and serious crime and violence on the streets of London. Shoreditch has been a hotspot for these kinds of offences”.
In regards to the drug swabbing, the Met said, “On this occasion police worked with two licensed premises in Curtain Road EC2A, with the consent of the licensees and authorised by the Met’s Licensing Unit, to run an operation utilising a drugs itemiser machine. The machine works the same way as those found at airports in that it tests for presence on a surface swabbed (i.e. the hands).”
Further criticism of the Met stemmed from the video’s portrayal that members of the public could be swabbed at random, and searched under the Misuse of Drugs Act (2001) if they refused consent. The Met seemed to acknowledge this confusion by writing in the press release, “The use of the machine was as a condition of entry, that condition being agreed with the licensees for that night. Anyone who refused was not allowed entry to the venues on the night. It was made clear to those wanting to attend the venues that the swabbing was voluntary.
Refusal did not automatically mean that the person would be searched under S23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.”
They added, “If anyone provided a positive swab and no further grounds for search were identified they were allowed to continue with their night. If further grounds were observed, then searches were conducted. No personal details were obtained from anyone unless they provided them when stopped/searched.”
Notable by its absence in the statement from the Met was the detailed explanation of how swabbing revellers on the entrance to a nightclub increases public safety as they claimed in the tweet.
Adam Waugh from harm reduction service The Loop told us “There is evidence from around the world that drug checking (testing people’s drugs and informing them of the contents in healthcare consultations) can reduce drug-related harm in the night time economy. In the UK, drug checking has been shown to reduce higher-risk drug taking, both in the short and longer term. City centre drug checking has been successfully piloted by The Loop, so we are now keen to work with local police forces and other stakeholders to develop city centre drug checking across the country.”