Operation Leopard is the latest weapon in the fight against antisocial behaviour to receive government backing. Pioneered by officers in Essex policing difficult estates, it deploys forward intelligence teams (FITs) – units trained to gather evidence at foxhunts, protests and football matches – in areas suffering from crime.
FIT officers target a hit list of individuals who are “known to police”, and subject them to repeated surveillance.
Although officers claimed targets could choose not to be filmed, none of those stopped in the presence of the Guardian around 15 suspects and associates were given that choice.
Lee, 19, said he had been stigmatised. “I admit I was a little shit back in the past, but who ain’t?” he said. “I’ve grown up now I’m chilled these days. The old bill don’t let us move on. They keep on classing us as criminals.”
For civil rights groups, the operation is an Orwellian technique that persecutes individuals who have committed no crime. But for police, the “in your face” approach works and, unlike covert surveillance, it requires no special authorisation.
For civil rights groups, which have complained about Operation Leopard, this is precisely the problem. Some activists have launched a counterattack, subjecting FIT officers to surveillance. Turning their own cameras on FIT, activists have started posting officers’ names, faces and badge numbers online.
Back at the station, the officers logged on to one of the websites, Fitwatch, and vented their frustration at “revenge attacks”. One said being filmed felt “unnerving”.
video of operation leopard (videos have been removed):