Stop and Search

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This past summer the government held a consultation on the future of police stop and search powers. Many civil rights and equality organisations across the country took part issuing theirown response to the consultation including the Leicester stop and search reference group which included several TREC staff as members. TREC also helped facilitate the region’s response working with the Racial Minority VCS assembly.

A consultation on police powers of stop and search

September 2013

Response submitted by Leicester Stop and Search Reference Group
In association with
Leicester Racial Minority VCS Assembly.

Introduction:

Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to respond to your consultation about police powers of stop and search. We welcome this opportunity as the Leicester Stop and Search Reference Group.

The Leicester Stop and Search Reference Group was established through partnership between Leicestershire Police and key community organisations and community members in the City of Leicester.

It was established to provide a public scrutiny of the progress being made by Leicestershire Police in meeting their agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to reduce the level of disproportionality in the use of Stop and Search powers between people from different racial backgrounds.

The Terms of Reference for the Stop and Search reference Group defines the purpose of the group as:

1. To work with Leicestershire Police to reduce race disproportionality in the use of stop and search powers by Leicestershire Police.

2. To assist Leicestershire Police in improving the trust and confidence of Black & Minority Ethnic people in the way that stop searches are conducted.

3. To assist Leicestershire Police to ensure that stop search powers are used lawfully.

4. To assist Leicestershire Police in the development of stop search policy, procedure and practice.

The membership of the group includes representation from:

  • Leicester’s Race Equality Centre,
  • the Police Advisory Group on Race and Equality
  • Leicester’s African Caribbean Citizen’s Forum, and
  • Interested members of the public.

Prior to the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner, a member of the Police Authority was also a member of the group.

The Stop and Search Reference Group conducted this consultation with Leicester’s Racial Minority VCS Assembly. The Assembly has a membership of 120 voluntary and community organisations that work together to support the development of public policy and strategies that appropriately reflect the diverse needs of different communities in the city. The primary functions of the Assembly are:

a. To ensure that all racial minority communities are informed of public service developments that might affect them

b. To prevent conflicts and division in the decisions about resource allocation in the area 3

c. To provide a fair means of consultation for local service planning.

Recent issues addressed by the Assembly include participation in:

  • proposals about the strategic plans of the local enterprise partnership
  • consultation regarding the development of Healthwatch, and
  • this Stop and Search consultation exercise.

The view of these members was obtained by means of a supported workshop, conducted on 19th September 2013.

 

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Q1. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the use of police powers of stop and search is effective in preventing and detecting crime and anti-social behaviour?

 

The participants in the consultation workshop expressed a range of opinions which ranged from “tend to agree” to “strongly disagree”. A significant proportion responded to state that they neither agree nor disagree.

The reasons given for these responses drew attention to concerns about the context of the question. It was stated that, in an ideal situation, the use of police powers of Stop and Search could be effective in detecting crime; but, the current use of the powers appears to be less than effective.

None of the respondents felt that the powers were effective in preventing crime; however, the view was expressed that this was appropriate, as the powers are not intended to “prevent” crime. Respondents reflected on the powers that had been abolished prior to the introduction of PACE Stop and Search powers, which had permitted the intervention with individual liberty on the grounds of a suspicion that a crime was due to be committed. The respondents were of the view that it was appropriate that the iniquitous “sus” powers had been abolished and did not wish to see a reintroduction of any similar regime. Therefore, they do not believe that the current Stop and Search powers should be viewed as a general crime prevention mechanism.

Respondents drew attention to the findings of the recent HMIC investigation into the use of Stop and Search powers and reflected that the effectiveness of the mechanisms is undermined by the limited training received by police officers, and the failure to always utilise community intelligence in determining the need to deploy the powers.

Respondents also reflected on the significant lack of evidence of effectiveness in the use of the powers. Again, consideration was given to the HMIC report that demonstrated that only 9% of Stops and Search resulted in an arrest. In this, the participants were mindful of the requirement for police officers to have “reasonable grounds for suspicion” before engaging in a Stop and Search encounter. They, therefore, experienced disquiet at the limited number of occasions that the “reasonable grounds for suspicion” is borne out by the actual presence of the thing that is suspected.

Concern was also expressed regarding the implication within the question that those being consulted were being asked to endorse the possibility of an extension of the use of Stop and Search powers to allow a general intrusion to address anti-social behaviour. Those taking part in this consultation event were of the view that police Stop and Search powers should not be used for this purpose, beyond the very limited circumstances of an Order under s.60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Finally, respondents reflected on the disproportionate use of the powers on people who are perceived to be of different racial groups by police officers. There is a view that this disproportionality is a reflection of the limited supervision and accountability in the use of the powers. This level of unfettered discretion for police officers allows for the possibility that individual prejudices play a significant part in determining who will be subject to suspicion. This, in turn, caused respondents to doubt the effectiveness of the use of the powers in detecting crime.

 

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Q2. What are, in your view, the types of crime and anti-social behaviour that can be tackled effectively through the application of stop and search powers?

 

The views of respondents to this question were divided.

The most positive responses stated that, if used appropriately, the stop and search powers can effectively tackle the very crimes for which they have been provided, i.e. possession of controlled drugs, stolen items and possession of offensive weapons.

Respondents did not feel that the police require Stop and Search powers to tackle any anti-social behaviour.

The view was expressed that, if the powers are not effective, at present, in tackling the stated offences, then this is because he powers are not being utilised appropriately – rather than there being any requirement to extend the scope of the powers.

As stated by one respondent:

“The measure is not effective, but should it be used appropriately then it would tackle all the crimes it was meant to tackle”.

On the other hand, a proportion of respondents felt that no crimes can be tackled effectively through the application of police Stop and Search powers. However, this group expanded on this view to explain that they were responding to their view of how the powers are currently used. Hence, without improvement in police understanding, use of intelligence, accountability and answerability, the existing application of police stop and search powers will not tackle any crimes effectively.

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Q.3 To what extent do you agree that the arrest rate following stop and search events is a useful measure of the power’s effectiveness?

 

No respondents agreed with this statement. However, none of the respondents were convinced by the consultation proposition that the opportunity for the police to Stop and Search members of the public acted as a deterrent to committing crime.

While no-one agreed with the statement, a significant number tended to disagree or strongly disagreed with it.

These respondents referred to HMIC’s report that indicated that some forces do not record the outcome from Stop and Search encounters, except for an arrest – i.e. they did not even record if the item searched for was actually found. Respondent’s also pointed out that an arrest is only one possible outcome from a Stop and Search, and that all possible outcomes should be measured and evaluated to identify the effectiveness of the use of the power.

Some respondents were concerned by the ambiguity of the question. Two specific reasons for this were expressed. On one hand, a number pointed out that any measurement should not reflect the effectiveness of the power, but should be used to identify how effectively the power is being used. As one respondent stated, “there can be no measurement of effectiveness if the power is not applied effectively”. Consequently, the concern of the respondents went to the appropriateness of current police practice. In the absence of indications of consistently appropriate practice, the question itself is rendered meaningless.

Another body of thought suggested that the question would have been more meaningful if the word “useful” was replaced by the word “valid” so that the question could have read:

“To what extent do you agree that the arrest rate following stop and search events is avalid measure of the power’s effectiveness?”

However, having identified this limitation in the question, one respondent went on to point out that arrest rates cannot be a useful measure of the effectiveness of Stop and Search powers if the reason for the original suspicion is not the same as the reason for which the individual is arrested. In this circumstance, the arrest statistic is invalid. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the relationship between the cause for the search and the reason for the arrest.

 

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Q5 To what extent do you agree or disagree that the ‘with reasonable grounds’ stop and search powers (s.1 PACE Act) are used by police in a way which effectively balances public protection with individual freedoms?

 

Respondents to this question ranged in opinion from “neither agree nor disagree” to “Strongly Disagree”.

Those that were unsure indicated that this was because, if used appropriately, the “with reasonable grounds” requirement can provide appropriate protection. Unfortunately, they were not convinced that the requirement for reasonable grounds is deployed appropriately. They made reference to occasions when they, or those they know, have been stopped and searched for the purpose of obtaining information – rather than for the legitimate purpose of the powers.

Reasons expressed for disagreeing with the statement drew attention to the high rate of stops and search that are carried out without evidence of any further action. This was taken to indicate that there is too high a rate of infringement of individual liberties. Respondents reflected upon the HMIC view that there was little understanding of the guidance on the legitimate meaning of “reasonable grounds”, with dismay. There was a general feeling that this is inevitable if police officers are not provided with regular re-training and/or scrutiny in their use of the powers.

Respondents commented on the actuality of the matters that are dealt with through the use of Stop and Search powers:

  • Where the power is used to search for stolen property, then the items will be found only if the offence of theft has already happened, hence there has been a failure to “protect” the public
  • Where the power is used to search for possession of controlled drugs, our respondents were conscious that the “reasonable ground” that is most often cited is the presence of the odour of the drug in question. Invariably, this is a reference to cannabis. Our respondents were of the view that, there was too great a discrepancy between the suspicion of the presence of cannabis and the actual finding of the drug, which suggests that no public protection is afforded by such searches.
  • In terms of searches for the possession of offensive weapons, this was the only area where it was felt that the use of Stop and Search provides any degree of public protection.

Our respondents were also concerned that the infringement on personal liberties is disproportionately used against those that police officers perceive to be of African or African-Caribbean origin. This was taken as an indication that, even the limited protection for individual freedoms, these are not equally provided for all members of the public and that the current arrangements for scrutiny and supervision are inadequate for ensuring that individual freedoms and personal liberties are protected equally across all racial groups – despite the presence of guidance requiring adherence to the Equality Act.

The respondents proposed that the question indicated a narrow understanding of the impact of undue police interference with personal liberties. They pointed out that, where there has been undue and unnecessary interference with personal liberties by the police, this is likely to engender mistrust of the police. On consequence of this can be the failure to resort to the police for protection at a later point. Hence, inappropriate use of Stop and Search powers can have the result of reducing the capability of the police to protect the public.

 

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Q6. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the ‘without reasonable grounds’ stop and search powers (s.60 CJ and PO Act) are used by police in a way which effectively balances public protection with individual freedoms?

 

Respondents strongly disagreed with this statement. They expressed the view that the absence of a requirement to have reasonable grounds for suspicion removes any restraint from unnecessary interference with personal liberty.

The only counter to this view arose from the recognition that the imposition of the s.60 conditions requires the authorisation of a senior officer. This was viewed as a minimum opportunity to establish accountability for any interference with personal liberties.

However, respondents felt that the manner in which s.60 powers are used in “policing” whole communities, as above, undermines community and police relations – rendering the police less able to provide public protection at a future time.

Stop and search at Notting Hill carnival

Q7. To what extent do you agree that it is right that the police are under a national requirement to record the information set out above in respect of each stop and search?

All of our respondents “strongly agreed” with this requirement.

The reasons given for this reflected the respondents’ view that there should be evidence based accountability for the use of the powers by the police, as a means of indicating equality and justice, and monitoring and evaluating the engagements. With particular reference to the recording of information about perceived ethnicity, the reasons for this view included providing the means and evidence to demonstrate the absence of bias against particular racial groups when using the power. Currently, this evidence successfully demonstrates that there is a bias in police attitudes toward black communities.

While it may be seductive to remove the evidential base to remove the means of asserting discriminatory treatment, our respondents felt that this will be counter-productive. But our respondents pointed out that appropriate recording is an essential part of transparency – enabling the identification of trends in practice to be able to remove institutional bias and to improve on any lapses in adequate use of power.

One caveat to this view was expressed in the view that it is not sufficient to just record the information. There is a need to ensure that the data is analysed and, where necessary, plans are made to address disproportionate use of the Stop and Search powers against people from different racial groups. Respondents pointed out that the other information that is recorded is essential to be able to allow supervising officers to adequately monitor the use of the powers by police officers.

Respondents reflected on the context that, in a free nation, personal liberties must be protected and that, therefore, there must be a means to monitor and supervise any infringement on any person’s personal liberties. As expressed by a number of the respondents, this recording requirement is actually a minimum requirement for control of powers to interfere with personal freedoms.

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Q9. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “I am confident that the police use stop and search powers fairly to prevent and detect crime and anti-social behaviour?”

 

Respondents found this question difficult to address, not least because Stop and Search powers are not intended to prevent crime nor, except in the very limited circumstance of s.60 CJ and PO Act, to prevent or detect anti-social behaviour.

Even in these limited s.60 circumstances, it was not felt that searching an individual successfully addresses anti-social behaviour. Where respondents were more sure of their opinions, it was in relation to the ability to be confident that the police use the powers fairly. In this regard, respondents were unanimous that the powers are not used fairly. They drew attention to the evidence that people perceived to be of African or African- Caribbean origin are 7 times more likely, and people perceived to be of Asian origin are 4 times more likely, to be stopped and searched by the police than their white counterparts as clear indications that the powers are not used fairly.

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Q10. What would give you greater confidence in the police’s use of stop and search powers? Please give reasons.

 

Almost universally, respondents stated that greater and/or external scrutiny of police use of Stop and Search Powers is essential in improving public confidence in the use of the powers. This was supported, by a significant number, with an expectation that police forces should fully reflect the communities they serve, at all levels of the forces.

Some replies reflected response given earlier in the consultation, for example, better recording and scrutiny of the recorded data was cited as necessary for confidence by a number of respondents.

However, there was a view that neither better recording nor external scrutiny was sufficient to maintain public confidence. It was expected that the mechanism for scrutiny itself needs to be publically known and accessible. This might also be associated with the means to independently assess complaints about the use of the powers, in individual or community circumstances.

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Q11. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the current requirement to explain the reasons for the stop and search make the use of the power more fair and transparent?

 

There was a general level of disagreement with this statement because, even though there is currently a requirement to explain the grounds and object of the Stop and Search, that has not served to make the use of the power more fair and transparent.

Respondents were informed by HMIC’s report that indicated that police officers utilising the powers often did so inappropriately. They were also mindful of the evidence of unfair use of the powers against people from different racial origins.

Respondents discussed their view of the limited opportunity for people to refuse to be stopped and/or searched if they felt that the power was being used inappropriately – anecdotal indications were that any refusal to cooperate with an unlawful search can result in an arrest. The disparity in power and authority, whether or not used legitimately, between police officers and members of the public means that merely stating the grounds of the suspicion is not sufficient to guarantee fair and transparent treatment.

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Q12. Before today, had you heard of the police.uk website?

 

Approximately 25% of respondents had heard of the site. A smaller proportion had attempted to view information on the site but had found it limited and difficult to navigate.

The rest of respondents did not know of the site.

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Q 13. To what extent do you agree or disagree that police.uk should contain information on stop and search in your local area?

 

Respondents ranged in opinion from “tend to agree” to “strongly agree”. However, there was a view that this should not be relied upon as the only means of publicising the use and effectiveness of Stop and Search in any particular local area.

There was a view expressed that there could be a tendency to “sanitise” the data for PR reasons, rather than utilise the opportunity to provide transparent information for purposes of accountability. It was proposed that, this can be off-set by enabling the external scrutiny agency (referred to above) to determine the content of the information to be posted to the web-site.

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Q.14 To what extent to you agree or disagree that local communities should have direct involvement in deciding how the police use their stop and search powers?

 

Responses to this statement were in the mid-range from “tend to agree” to “tend to disagree”.

Some respondents felt that the question was unclear in its meaning; i.e. is it a reference to how individual police officers use their powers or to how the police as an organisation utilise the powers.

Similarly, there was some confusion about whether the question refers to the use of the powers on a daily basis or with reference to the strategic monitoring of the use of the powers.

However, there was a general consensus view that there is a role for a representative group of local communities to scrutinise the use of the powers and to provide a means of challenging inappropriate use of the powers.

The role of this community agency can also extend to providing community education about the powers of the police to conduct Stop and Search engagements

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Q15. In your view, how might local communities be directly involved in decisions concerning the use of stop and search powers?

 

It was felt that this question had been answered in the previous question.

Respondents requested that the terms of reference of Leicester’s Stop and Search Reference Group should be appended to this consultation response as an example of how local communities can be directly involved in reviewing the use of Stop and Search powers across force areas.

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Appendix 1.

 

Leicestershire Stop Search Reference Group Draft Terms of Reference

Purpose

5. To work with Leicestershire Police to reduce race disproportionality in the use of stop and search powers by Leicestershire Police.

6. To assist Leicestershire Police in improving the trust and confidence of Black & Minority Ethnic people in the way that stop searches are conducted.

7. To assist Leicestershire Police to ensure that stop search powers are used lawfully.

8. To assist Leicestershire Police in the development of stop search policy, procedure and practice.

Role

1. To monitor and scrutinise Leicestershire Police stop search data.

2. To examine redacted stop search forms to ensure that stop searches have been carried out in accordance with the law.

3. To report quarterly to the Police Authority Diversity Committee on stop search.

4. To identify opportunities for community education relating to stop search and to work with Leicestershire Police to facilitate this.

5. To provide a third party reporting and feedback mechanism for stop search complaints.

6. To make recommendations regarding changes to stop search policy, procedure and practice and review implementation of same.

7. To invite guests to address the Stop Search Reference Group at the direction of the Group.

Membership

  • The Race Equality Centre
  • Police Authority Member
  • Leicestershire Police lead for Stop Search
  • PAGRE member
  • Representative of Leicestershire Diversity Support Networks
  • Interested members of the public by invitation of the Group
  • The Assistant Chief Constable will attend at least two SSRG a year
  • Any other person by invitation of the Group

Meetings will occur on a monthly basis. Frequency will be reviewed after 6 months.

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