Tue, 18 May 2010

Last November, the Islington Borough Police set up a Stop and Search Monitoring Group to get regular feedback from members of the public. I joined this group two months ago. So far, I have only attended one meeting of the group. Most of it was dedicated to a presentation by Bevan Powell, Metropolitan Black Police Association, about two schemes: Young Leaders for Safer Cities (YLFSC) and Voice Of the Youth And Genuine Empowerment (Voyage). None of these schemes are currently planned for Islington, but they gave a context for discussing a series of workshops on stop and search.

The Inspector, Stop and Search lead for Islington Police, who set up the monitoring group organised a workshop on stop and search at the North London Central Mosque on 2010-05-14. He was accompanied by his Chief Inspector. Two Safe Neighbourhood Team officers attended as well as three independent members of Islington's Stop and Search Monitoring Group. About twenty kids and young men aged from 10 to 24-year old with the majority between 11 and 14-year old were present. They were very motivated and attentive, asking many relevant questions.

The workshop started with an introduction by the Inspector stressing that the aim of the workshop was to explain the stop and search tactic, and to get some feedback. Those who have had experience(s) of being stopped and searched then briefly talked about what happened:

This was followed by a series of four role play exercises. In the first two, the two police officers acted as police officers on patrol while two kids acted as members of the public being stopped and searched:

For the next two exercises, two kids acted as police officers and the police Inspector acted as a member of the public being stopped and searched. The 'officers' were briefed that an Asian man with a white jacket (description matching that of the Inspector) had been seen at the robbery. At some point during the stop and search, the 'officers' were further instructed that someone had been arrested for the robbery, and hence their suspect was innocent of this crime.

Participants were asked why do they think the police use stop and search tactics. Here are some of the answers:

The Inspector added that the stop and search powers are used to search for knives, drugs, stolen property, offensive weapon, equipment and suspicious individuals in hotspots. When someone is stop and searched the officers must say who they are, their police station, the grounds for the search, and give a copy of the form filled in during the search. If plain cloth officers are conducting a stop and search in addition to identifying themselves they must show their warrant card (though no warrant card was shown so how does one knows what they look like and if they're genuine was left as an exercise.)

The form normally offered at the end of a stop and search may not be given there and then in section 60 (S60) of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 situation as there may no time for doing so. The form can be requested during the next 12 months (section 1(9) of the Crime and Security Act 2010 will this to three months if it come into force). The form is not a criminal record, there's nothing to worry about (it was not mentioned that the information collected during the stop and search does end up in the CRIMINT criminal intelligence database*). The police also use stop and account to just have a chat with you.

The Inspector pointed out that the UK was exceptional in having well codified stop and search powers. In most other countries, the powers of arrest are used when a stop and search would be enough. These powers are well defined in comparison to the old 'Sus' law. (There was no mention that an arrest in England and Wales has much more severe consequences than in many other countries, in particular with having one's DNA profile ending on the National DNA Database. Also several stop and search powers do not even require any suspicion, namely section 60 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, and section 44 (S44) and schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.)

The conclusion was that the police will use the stop and search powers but need to use them fairly so you feel safe in your community. It was expressed that the number of stabbings in Islington has gone down in over the past years. (There may not be a link between stop and search and reduction in number of stabbings; criminologist Marian Fitzgerald pointed out that during the same period, the number of stabbings had gone up in Southwark though Southward Borough Police had used S60 stop and search powers more often than Islington Borough Police.)

Many questions were asked, most of them answered, and much feedback offered:

After two busy hours, the workshop was formally closed. Discussions still continued briefly afterwards showing how concerned kids and teenagers are with stop and search, and the interest this workshop created. The role play exercises were an efficient tool to show the difference made by remaining calm in encounters such as stop and search.

Even though the participants may not have understood all the subtleties of all the different powers, they made several comments about needing a better reason for stop and searches. This hints at the problems associated specifically with stop and search powers that do not require reasonable grounds. I was surprised that the Inspector did not mention that officers conducting a stop and search should mention the act authorising the power used. The audience was too young to go into legal details, but stating the law authorising their action does help in furthering confidence in the police. Another surprise was that no-one asked about whether they had to give their names when stopped and searched; in my experience this is one of the most common question of older audiences.

All those who talked about having been stopped and searched mentioned one of the reason given was their 'suspicious look'. It is possible that they misremembered the officers stating instead they were stopped and searched because of their 'suspicious behaviour'. This may not be racial profiling, but it is a serious issue which I hope Islington police will investigate further and report on at a future meeting of the monitoring group. Lastly, most of those stopped and searched didn't take the form, even though it was usually offered to them. Hopefully this workshop will have given them the confidence to take a copy of it, if or when they are next stopped and searched. This is an essential step in making the police officers accountable.

* Update (2010-05-24): I received the following correction from Islington Borough Police:

One thing you mention with regards the CRIMINT- Intelligence database is inaccurate. The 'Stops Data base' is not directly linked to the CRIMINT. Only if an officer believes there is useful intelligence connected to the stop is the stop then linked to the actual CRIMINT Intelligence system. The vast majority of stops are not entered onto the CRIMINT Intelligence database.

Further details about the reporting of stops and searches is contained in Notice 27/2007 from the Met Territorial Policing Headquarters (TPHQ) Stops and Searches Team (obtained on 2009-06-17 using the Freedom of Information Act):

Prevention of Double Keying

It has become common practice across the Metropolitan Police Service for data from the Form 5090 to be entered into CRIMINT in addition to the Stops Database. This is an unnecessary duplication of work and effort as all information on the Stops Database is contained within the Corporate Data Warehouse and is fully searchable through the Integrated Information Platform which every Borough Operational Command Unit has access to.

It is accepted that officers will, on occasions, glean information as a result of a stop and search/encounter that cannot be captured on the Form 5090 or placed on the Stops Database. Officers must create a separate CRIMINT entry in these circumstances, on all other occasions the stop will be recorded on the Stops Database alone.

Officers should ensure the Stops Database is populated with as much information as possible to allow detailed searches to be performed.

Update (2010-06-09): Emma Norton has posted a concise recap on Liberty Central of the main stop and search powers and what information officers must give you.

First published on 2010-05-18; last updated on 2010-06-09.

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