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Who gets ‘booked’: Super-Surveillance & the case of Ali Dizaei

by Nirmal Puwar
23 Feb 2010 • Comment (1) • Print
Posted: General Issue [7] | Commons

Could it be that racialized bodies who speak out of turn and engage in the renegade act of whistle blowing, especially risk feeling the cold wrath of administrative controls mangled in the terms of misconduct and professional integrity. Codes of conduct are never applied uniformly. Many are broken in minor ways in the every day life of institutions and organizations. Some bodies break them at large with little personal consequence. Others endure super-surveillance, get ‘booked’ and even ‘sent down’. Particularly if they conspicuously sit in elite positions historically not ‘reserved’ for their racialized bodies.

Ali Dizaei a commander with Scotland Yard, started a four year prison sentence on 8th February 2010 for falsely arresting a web designer in a dispute over payment and then lying in official statements by claiming he had been assaulted and threatened by the man.[1] Convictions at this level of rank are not an everyday occurrence. In fact, he is the most senior officer to be convicted in the last three decades.

An abuse of the exercise of power by figures of authority is not unheard of. We could list countless occasions when police officers have ‘over-exerted’ themselves in the course of everyday duties, to the extent of causing fatal injuries and death or negligence in the administration of justice. The most recent case in point being the repeated shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes on the London underground for being a suspect terrorist, two weeks after the 7/7 London bombings. Financial compensation and a lamentable apology was made by the Metropolitan police service but the Crown Prosecution Service decided that no individual should be prosecuted.

Officers from particular ranks and sections are for political reasons ‘protected’ during charges of investigation. Collegiate bonds further facilitate the protection. However, those who speak against the ways and means of the occupational ‘tribe’ are likely to warrant less affective and institutional protection, especially from those in the higher echelons of the hierarchy. In fact, the outspoken ones are likely to become the source of super-surveillance rather than ‘protection’ from within the institutional body itself. In these situations, any misconduct is likely to be amplified rather than buried.

Racialized bodies in the higher ranks of many organisations, including the police, are conspicuous by nature. They exist in small numbers. Their bodies are already visible. They are, to put it rhetorically, space invaders, in terms of how both spaces and bodies are normatively imagined.[2] For their observers they carry an air of intrigue, novelty, even fascination but also potential suspicion. This suspicion is exacerbated if they don’t totally toe the line and most especially if they speak out of turn by, for instance – as in the case of Dizaei – naming the existence of racism in their own organisations. Then they are marked bodies. Disproportional observation ensues. Even the most minor of errors is focused on, made visible and not dropped as it often is for those whose bodies are not visible and marked. The greater the blunder or in this case the abuse of power and position, the more leverage is available for those higher up to push and pull their own weight around. All the bolts, drawers and rule books get pulled out. Policies and procedures that are overlooked, unseen or even concealed on other occasions when officers have misbehaved are released to harness all the administrative muscle in the quarters.

Dizaei is clearly not beyond the law. But other officers, including those involved in fatalities, often are shielded within the law. The disproportional surveillance placed on him for many years made sure he wasn’t. As President of the National Black Police Association (NBPA) Dizaei highlighted the racism of the institution he was invested in. He was an out spoken Vice-chair of the association when the racist murder of the teenager Steven Lawrence ensued an investigative enquiry of racism in the force itself.

Dizaei had been cleared of criminal charges in 2003 when Scotland Yard suspected him of serious offences under the code name Helios, over allegations of corruption and misconduct , including the use of drugs and sex workers. No doubt as a young high flyer, he did not lack confidence or live a puritanical lifestyle.  But behaviour that regularly goes unnoticed was clearly enlarged and embellished  for further investigation by some of his senior colleagues. They partly zoomed on specific practices that amount to everyday routine lapses of the job because (i) he had put some noses out of joint by speaking out against the racism in the higher echelons of the police, (ii) he was visible by virtue of being a senior ‘black’ officer, who was in that respect a newcomer  and (iii) he displayed flamboyant masculine forms of institutional power. This case cost the tax payer millions of pounds.

Over the years Dazaei has become a figure at the middle of institutional claims and counter-charges, apologies and critiques. After his re-instatement  in 2003, Dazaei continued to raise his head above the parapet on several occasions. He spoke against the bungled high profiled, costly, trigger laden counter-terrorism raid on suspicion of possessing a chemical bomb, of two houses in Forest Gate, East London on 2 June 2006.  He also spoke against the racial profiling of airline passengers. He really blew the whistle against his more conservative colleagues when he published his book Not One of Us in 2007. This was no doubt seen as another renegade act against the occupational tribe he had been endorsed by and risen to high rank within but, he was too often critical of, most especially on the grounds of racism in the police.

In December 2009, the newspaper The News of the World apologised and paid damages after Dazaei sued them for wrongly claiming he had “employed an illegal immigrant as his right-hand man”. For years he had successively fought charges and systematic super surveillance of his everyday behaviour in his private and public life. On this occasion, in February 2010, while the judge accepted that Dizaei was “an exceptional officer” who had been granted glowing performance reviews, he also noted that he was being sent down for arresting a man for an assault that did not occur.

This case begs the question which ‘insiders’ (in this case commanders in Scotland Yard) get booked? Under which terms are they protected? When are everyday organisational lapses in working life ignored? When are aspects of social life which other wise ignored, amplified? And when are they touted? We know, this is no equal institutional playing field. It comes with social and political cloning mechanisms, clamps, levers and shut outs. Super-surveillance and amplification of errors is selective, co-existing in the allegiances, competing camps, desires, hierarchies and friendships that fire up institutions.


2.  For an elaboration of this notion of ‘space invaders, see N. Puwar, Space Invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place, Berg, 2003  [↑]


Nirmal Puwar, Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Co-Director of Methods Lab, Goldsmiths, University of London.
All posts by: Nirmal Puwar | Email | Website

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One Response »

  1. And what ‘impact assessment’ was carried out so that Ali wouldn’t be assaulted in prison?

    Well written.

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