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Notting Hill Carnival is Met’s Biggest Intel Lab

Blade detector: A police officer studies a youth as he walks through a knife-arch security scanner at Vauxhall railway station in a anti-knife crime trial

Big brother will again loom large at the Notting Hill Carnival this year making life very suffocating for all manner of criminals, from the sophisticated to the petty; pickpockets; violent gangsters; illegal traders; drug dealers, wannabe terrorists, etc.

Keeping a watchful eye on the estimated over one million revellers over the two-day street party is a law enforcement nightmare, but carnival’s unique challenges also make it an alluring laboratory to trial new gadgets, policing methods, and crowd-control techniques. The neighbourhood’s warren of narrow streets, alleyways, undulating roads, even greenery, present untold opportunities to halt party-poopers in their tracks. [CCTV cameras are hidden behind tree foliages and branches]. Automatic number plate recognition technology (ANPR) has been used in the run-up to the carnival to detain wanted criminals criss-crossing the city in cars.

Knife arches will be deployed for the first time amidst London’s crime epidemic that has seen over 50 fatal stabbings in 2018 alone with homicides surpassing New York for the first time in one month. They will be stationed in strategic locations to deter those who may be planning to come to the event with offensive weapons. The Met say knife arches are a tried-and-tested method of deterring people from carrying knives, as well as detecting those who choose to do so. On hand will be behavioural experts to pinpoint suspects although fears have been raised about racial profiling.

Face in the crowd: Met used facial recognition technology at Notting Hill Carnival last year

Last year, facial recognition technology was trialled, but it won’t be making a comeback this year as security experts say it is unreliable and unable to differentiate between male and female faces. Super recognisers — highly-skilled detectives who are adept at memorising faces of criminals — are deemed more reliable and will once again be scanning the crowds for potential troublemakers and those banned from attending. 

Facial recognition relies on matching facial features to a database of those wanted by the Met for violence-related offences. If the technology generates an alert of a match, police officers on the ground will review it and further checks will be carried out to confirm the identity of the suspect.

The technology has continued to be trialled at different events and locations this year and will be subject to a full evaluation at the end of the year. Civil liberties group, Liberty, were invited to observe its use at the Carnival last year.

Detective Superintendent Bernie Galopin, of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), said: “The Met is currently developing the use of facial recognition technology to identify specific individuals at various different events and locations.

Surveillance: CCTV cameras inside the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Operations Room in Lambeth, from where the Notting Hill Carnival operations will be run

“This technology has previously been used at the past two Notting Hill Carnivals and at the 2017 Remembrance Sunday service to assess if it could assist police in identifying known offenders in large events and so help police to protect the wider public.”

Beyond technology, there is also the tried and tested boots on the ground; Sunday will see a total of 6,162 officers and staff dedicated to Carnival duty, whilst on Monday this figure will climb to 6,858. Some of these officers will be drafted in from the Met’s newly-formed Violent Crime Task Force, a team of specially-selected officers who focus on tackling violent crime on the streets of London.

They will be boosted by specialist assets from the Force Firearms Unit, Dog Unit and officers from the Mounted Branch. Last year anti-terror concrete blocks were installed in Notting Hill Gate, a major thoroughfare to the carnival after a spate of van-enabled terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge and Borough Market.

Superintendent Elisabeth Chapple, Met Police spokesperson for the event, said: “The sheer number of people coming to Carnival and the relatively small geographical area, means that it is a challenging environment to police. We are working closely with the event organisers to ensure that the event is a safe environment where people can come and enjoy themselves.

“Whilst there’s no specific threat to this event, we are keeping the situation under constant review. If you know of anyone who plans to cause trouble at this vibrant event, or use it as a cover for crime or violence, please let us know. Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 and tell us what you know.”

Watchful eyes: A Met police officer known as a Super recogniser scans the crowds for potential troublemakers

Commander Dave Musker, Police Gold Commander for Carnival, said: “The Met seeks to support Notting Hill Carnival Ltd, Carnivalists and local communities to deliver a safe and spectacular event over the Bank Holiday weekend. Our continued major effort directed against violence across the Capital will continue. Let no one be in any doubt that if you have the intention to come to Carnival and be involved in crime or violence, my officers will robustly and proactively target you to keep Londoners safe.”

Revellers attending Carnival are advised to employ the following safety precautions;

  • Tubes and buses will be busy, so plan your journey in advance;
  • Sunday is Children’s Day and traditionally less crowded;
  • Go with the flow of the crowd, don’t try and walk against it;
  • Have a set meeting place in case you lose family or friends, try not to rely on your mobile phone;
  • Don’t bring valuables or wear expensive jewellery;
  • Keep your belongings with you at all times;
  • Don’t carry too much cash or credit cards;
  • Police officers are there to help – sometimes they may ask you to walk a longer route but this will be for the safety of you and others.

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