News has emerged that West Midlands Police are planning to use mobile fingerprint scanning units to identify hooligans with banning orders as part of ‘Project Lantern’. The devices allow police to scan fingerprints and cross-check with their database to see if those stopped are subject to orders preventing them from attending matches.
While the scheme has been described as ‘voluntary’ most supporters will see it as another example of stereotype over reality, and questions must be asked about what constitutes ‘voluntary’? Will innocent fans be threatened with arrest if they refuse to comply? As those with banning orders are unlikely to give their fingerprints voluntarily there must be a danger that police may start using the threat of arrest in order to gain compliance.
Many will see echoes with the Stoke City ID Card which forced all supporters wanting to follow the Potters away from home to register for an Away Card and have their details checked by the authorities. The theory behind the scheme was that those travelling had been vetted and troublemakers filtered out, so Stoke supporters at away games would be treated more fairly by police and stewards.
However, many Stoke fans felt they were tarred with the hooligan brush and received far harsher treatment as a result, with police and stewards at matches adopting a ‘this lot must be really bad if they need ID cards’ mentality. The scheme was scrapped in September 2008.
“The Football Supporters’ Federation are happy to see genuine troublemakers targeted and weeded out but fingerprinting fans on the way to a game is absolutely not the answer,” said Amanda Jacks of the FSF.
“Rather than reassuring ordinary supporters that the police are acting in their best interests, the scheme could drive a further wedge beween law abiding fans and police when we're working very hard to achieve the opposite. Supporters are a tolerent lot, but initiatives such as these merely add to an increasing 'them and us' feeling.
“We have further concerns that while this is on trial today, it could eventually be rolled out across the country and we are writing to West Midlands Police to clarify our position and formally register our concerns.
“Police us on our behaviour, not reputation.”
Last November the Home Office praised supporters with statistics showing that just 0.01 per cent of 37m fans attending matches in England and Wales were arrested for football-related violence, with no arrests at 67 per cent of matches. Someone should tell West Midlands Police.