Police in London have been warned they risk criminalising and profiling Muslim pupils after it emerged patrols are to be stepped up around schools due to the continuing Israel-Gaza war.
Campaigners have written to the head of the Met Police after the force said it will “increase visible patrols” and communications with school staff will be “fed back to help our intelligence and information-gathering”, which critics have interpreted as an increase in surveillance.
The force revealed it was enhancing its presence around schools in a letter to head teachers from a senior officer, which was obtained by investigative journalists at Point Source and shared with The National.
In response to the police announcement, the Runnymede Trust said many pupils would be returning from half-term “having been exposed to scenes of death and destruction” but “must be afforded safe spaces to ask critical questions”.
“We are concerned that the escalation of police presence to actively surveil conversations and to ‘gather intelligence’ is a betrayal of children’s rights to privacy and free expression,” say the charity’s co-chief executive’s Dr Shabna Begum and Laurence Jay.
“When we add to this the Prevent Duty as it operates in schools, we also know that any increased surveillance is likely to have a highly racialised impact on British Muslim communities, with Muslim children and young people more likely to be profiled and sanctioned.”
In their letter to Met chief Sir Mark Rowley, they call for an end to the deployment of police in schools, which they argue “need to be safe spaces for children and young people to learn, challenge and grow, not sites for surveillance, intelligence-gathering and criminalisation”.
“What is happening in Gaza should not become an excuse for increasing the surveillance of children or the further curtailment of our democratic rights,” it said.
Their concerns come after Detective Chief Superintendent Clair Kelland wrote to head teachers saying officers were seeking to obtain information about “community tensions”.
The aims of policing activities in schools are “keeping young people safe, improving trust and confidence in the police and deterring them from criminal activity”, she said.
The Met Police denied there was any increase in intelligence-gathering activities, merely that it was increasing patrols.
“We know many people including school pupils, parents and teaching staff, are feeling vulnerable following the terrorist attack on Israel and ensuing conflict with Hamas,” said a representative.
“Across London there are more than 300 safer schools' officers working to reassure communities and protect children from those who would exploit current tensions to commit hate crimes. We are listening and acting on their concerns.
“Since the attack, we have conducted more than 700 visits to schools, including extra reassurance patrols, and we will continue to do so.”
Chairman of Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, Ghanem Nuseibeh, described the move as “sensible”, though it “comes with difficulties”.
“A visible police presence gives reassurance but it could also intimidate,” he told The National.
“The police need to work very closely with the various communities and engage with them to ensure that the security of those communities at risk is maintained while at the same time they feel they are part of protecting their own communities.
“At times like this, there are many instances where the law may not have been broken but minorities feel intimidated.
“Balancing what is legal but unacceptable requires full engagement of the local communities, especially schools. The police first and foremost need to ensure that they convey the message to everyone that they are there to protect everyone.”
Between October 1 and 27, police recorded 408 anti-Semitic offences, compared to only 28 in the same period last year, representing a rise of 1,357 per cent.