Social media users have shared their outrage at a video posted by the Metropolitan Police, depicting them conducting streetside searches in London's Shoreditch.
The video was published on the official Met Police Twitter account with the caption: "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".
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Multiple drug swabs took place on members of the public queued up to get into a venue. The Met Police said in a statement that they collaborated with a nightclub owner who made police swabbing an entry requirement.
Any venue owner can legally enforce that rule for attendees, those who wanted to enter must oblige.
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
This video prompted a series of highly critical comments from members of the public, many of whom were questioning the legality of the incident.
One Twitter user commented on the post: “A lot of people are asking under what legal power you were doing this. Can you explain?”
Another person said: “Is this allowed??? Just stopping people randomly and swabbing them?”
VICE World News Global Drugs Editor Max Daly, added: “This doesn't look very legal. If a police officer asks you to do a drug swab for no reason, just refuse.”
Political organisations have also been quick to comment on the news. The Liberal Democrats for Drug Reform said: "STOP & SWAB does absolutely nothing to protect drug users or members of the public."
"Whilst the Met Police waste time swabbing people in a propaganda exercise on behalf of the government, many more vulnerable people will continue to die on our streets".
Katya Kowalski, Head of Strategy at UK organisation Volteface, told Mixmag: “I am appalled at the recent drug swabbing video released by the Met Police this weekend.
"This initiative does nothing to keep the ‘night time economy’ safe as the Met claims on Twitter. Instead, this creates fear and hostility between the public, drug users and police officers."
Alex Stevens, Professor in Criminal Justice at the University of Kent, was critical of the argument that this is a move to protect the safety of women and clubbers, which is what the Met Police have claimed.
He tweeted: "Met Police now state that swab was a 'voluntary' condition of entry to a nightclub, and one woman was arrested for class A drug possession. Still not sure how this is supposed to keep people safe in NTE."
"These actions increase the harms associated with drugs, sending a dangerous message to users."
Speaking on the legality of the actions, Professor Stevens clarified to Mixmag that as the Met Police claim in a statement that all swabs were conducted voluntarily, so it doesn't necessarily mean their actions were unlawful.
However, he said: "This is the message the police are sending, that they will be tough on drug use. This message is unlikely to help drug help - and only really is for extra support from a certain demographic."
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The Met Police published an additional statement addressing the video via its Twitter account. The post said: "The video posted by the Met on social media was filmed in Shoreditch during a ‘Week Of Action’ supporting women’s safety between Monday 6, and Sunday 12 December 2021.
"The upsurge in activity included safety patrols of the night time economy, as well as tackling unlicensed minicabs, and attending schools to speak to staff and students.
"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".
Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter