A warning to all the bad little boys and girls in London: Scotland Yard is watching.
Or at least that’s the idea being floated by Deputy Commissioner Ian Blair of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. In a November speech, the Scotland Yard official proposed an “intelligence nexus which will hold sensitive information about large numbers of children, many of whom have not yet and probably will not actually drift into active criminality.”
While Scotland Yard reports that most types of crime have declined in Britain over the past 18 months, “street crimes” or muggings increased from the previous year by more than 30 percent as of September, Mr. Blair said.
He also pointed out that between half and three-quarters of street crimes are committed by juveniles, and roughly 75 percent of that group is made up of first-time offenders. “This means that their entry point to criminality known to the authorities is an offense of actual or proffered violence,” Mr. Blair said in the speech.
It was that trend that apparently prompted the deputy commissioner’s proposal for early monitoring of some young people. The information for the central database would be collected from schools, social service agencies, local police, and other sources.
Critics Raise Questions
Though described only in vague terms, Mr. Blair’s idea immediately raised eyebrows.
“We do have concerns, and so do many education and social work professionals,” said Roger Bingham, the spokesman for the London-based civil rights organization Liberty. “What will be the threshold for putting children in this database? How long will the information be held? Will they be able to come off the database, and if so, when and how? ... As it stands, we clearly need to see more details.”
Mr. Bingham’s list of questions goes on. But, so far, Scotland Yard isn’t saying much. Calls to the Metropolitan Police Service yielded only the transcript of Mr. Blair’s November speech.
Infractions that could earn a spot on Scotland Yard’s watch list include misbehavior in school, truancy, minor vandalism, bullying, hitting another child, and graffiti, according to an article in the online edition of The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper. The newspaper also reported that under the Scotland Yard plan, neither a child nor his parents would be told that the child’s name had been entered into the database for monitoring.
Deputy Commissioner Blair’s proposal is to begin with a pilot program in the 11 boroughs of London where youth crime is growing the fastest. From there, the program would expand nationwide.
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as Scotland Yard Official Suggesting Police Track Child Troublemakers