Last Saturday evening, Newham Monitoring Project celebrated the fantastic work undertaken by our Community Legal Observers (CLO) during this summer’s Olympics, with an event at The Arches near Star Lane in Canning Town.
In total, 89 CLOs took part in shifts during the Games and contributed a total of 222 hours on the streets of Newham, where they handed out 6450 rights cards to local people. In a presentation of a forthcoming report on the policing of the Olympics in the borough, NMP’s director Estelle du Boulay highlighted some of the early findings from the huge amount of data that was gathered by CLOs during their shifts. We found that:
The community response was overwhelmingly positive
Community Legal Observers were frequently told by members of the public that their activtities were ‘exactly what is needed’. One CLO told us: “no-one ever responded negatively, about 50% with curiosity … many with delight”.
The response from police quickly changed
The attitude of officers changed from amused to antagonistic as it because clear we were not going away and as a result of the consistent quality and commitment of CLOs. There were attempts to intimidate and insult our volunteers but thankfully no threats of arrest.
There are still problems with stop and search
In the majority of stops witnessed by CLOs, receipts were only given when police officers were aware that their actions were observed and in most cases, stop and search powers were not explained. One CLO who was stopped and searched after finishing a shift had ‘anti-police’ written on his receipt under “grounds for stop” after politely noting his rights and withholding his name and address.
There was a less than positive attitude by police towards people knowing about their rights
We received statements from people who had been arrested that our rights cards were taken from them upon arrest and they were not allowed to call NMP from custody.
There were accounts of strip searches taking place in police vans
The number of these accounts was alarming – especially as conducting a strip search in a van is illegal. One person was told: “In the van or down the station. It will be worse down the station.”
Below the surface, some police conduct was less professional than portrayed by senior officers
The high number of officers on duty, the large number of police vehicles and a visible display of firearms was designed to create a public image of complete authority and control. But below the surface, this ‘total policing’ approach frequently manifested itself in rude, aggressive and threatening attitudes to members of the public.
The experience of volunteering as a Community Legal Observer was itself very positive
Feedback from people who gave up their time to become CLOs for what was often a demanding role told us how much they enjoyed taking part, saying they felt “empowered … discovering there were actions they could take… and an organisation to support them”
Now that the Olympics and Paralympics are over, NMP is finalising a detailed report on community legal observing and a timeline showing the different incidents that took place during the period. The intention is to turn this into a resource for young people. On Saturday, we were also able to provide each Community Legal Observer with a memento of their incredible work over the summer – a specially designed ‘gold medal’ (right) that shows the iconic ‘human rights salute’ protest by Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.
The report will be available shortly and will be available here on our website.