Johnson proposes hi-vis chain gangs as part of crime plan

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<span>Photograph: Yui Mok/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Yui Mok/AFP/Getty Images

Offenders guilty of anti-social behaviour should be in “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs” publicly paying for their crimes, Boris Johnson has said.

Launching the government’s crime plan, which has been criticised by campaigners for the extension of stop-and-search powers, Johnson also called the controversial tactic “a kind and a loving thing to do”.

Among the proposals, designed to relaunch the prime minister’s domestic agenda, was a pledge that offenders doing community service will wear hi-vis clothing as they clear canals or clean graffiti. The plan will also trial the use of alcohol tags, which detect alcohol in the sweat of offenders guilty of drink-fuelled crime, on prison leavers in Wales.

“If you are guilty of antisocial behaviour and you are sentenced to unpaid work, as many people are, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be out there in one of those fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs visibly paying your debt to society. So you are going to be seeing more of that as well,” Johnson told reporters.

It is not the first time Johnson has proposed using highly visible uniforms for those undergoing community service. During his mayoral campaign in 2008 he launched “payback London”, which advocated youth offenders losing privileges such as travel passes and having to undertake community service in hi-vis attire in order to have them returned.

Boris Johnson launches the &#x002018;payback London&#x002019; scheme in 2008.
Boris Johnson launches the ‘payback London’ scheme in 2008. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Stop-and-search powers, which disproportionately target ethnic minorities, were restricted in 2014 by Theresa May when she was home secretary, so that they could only be used if police believed there was an immediate violent threat, during a limited number of hours.

Those restrictions were eased by Priti Patel in 2019 to allow police to carry out searches 24 hours a day and on grounds of possible violence. These changes will be made permanent under the government’s crime-fighting proposals.

Human rights groups including Liberty and criminal justice NGO Fair Trials said the powers were “discriminatory” and “repeatedly lead to the racist profiling of Black and other racially minoritised ethnic groups”.

Johnson, a long-time proponent of the tactic since his time as mayor of London, said he disagreed.

“They are not the only tool that we have got to use. They are part of a range of things we have got to do to fight street crime,” he said.

“I think that giving the police the backing that they need in law to stop someone, to search them, to relieve them of a dangerous weapon I don’t think that’s strong-arm tactics, I think that’s a kind and a loving thing to do.

“The people who often support stop and search most passionately are the parents of the kids who are likely themselves to be the victims of knife crime.”

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