A police watchdog has reported, four decades after the introduction of stop and search, that ‘no force fully understands the impact’.
Police in England and Wales are unable to explain why their powers are still used disproportionately, and in many cases unlawfully, on suspects from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) warns that police risk losing the trust of the communities they serve after the latest inspection on the disproportionate use of search powers.
Many policing commentators and elected representatives would say that, in some inner city areas of almost all the countries’ major cities, that trust has already decayed to the point of extinction.
A HMICFRS inspection report, published earlier today, says:
“Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.
“Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.”
It points to very recent data, from 2019 and 2020, that reveals ethnic minorities were four times more likely to be stopped under suspicion, and searched, than white persons.
Black people were almost six times more likely to have force used on them by police than whites and more than nine times as likely to have a Taser device pointed at or deployed against them. A chilling statistic, on any measure.
The inspection also uncovered further troubling numbers including black people being eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, the reasons for which HMICFRS says are unclear.
The watchdog points out that forces may be acting unlawfully, because this power was disproportionately used on certain ethnic groups, without apparent evidence as to why: “Unjustified use of handcuffs is unlawful and could amount to an assault,” the report correctly points out.
The inspectorate further observes that the excessive use of these powers was unfair and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupting their lives, education and work opportunities.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, formerly a very senior and highly rated black lawyer, who authored the report, says:
“It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources.”
HMICFRS found the most common reason given by the police, for the use of stop and search, was a suspicion of drug possession, rather than the much more serious offence of supply of drugs. She questions whether this is an effective use of the police power or their time, given that so little was found.
Drug searches on black people are also more likely to be carried out without intelligence, with officers recording weak grounds for so doing and, accordingly, less likely to find anything incriminating.
This indicates that efforts are not being effectively focused on policing priorities says Mrs Williams.
She adds: “Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.
“It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.
“The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.”
HMICFRS say that, whilst improvements had been made, too many police forces still did not analyse and monitor enough information and data to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used.
They found a wide variation in approaches between regional forces, such as their response to cannabis smoking, and said a consistent process was needed.
At the end of March 2020, statistics show that 93% of police officers were white, 1% black and 3% were Asian. There has only ever been one black chief constable in England and Wales; Michael Fuller, who took up his post in Kent in 2004.
Michael Lockwood, Director General of the perennially disgraced Independent Office for Police Conduct comments, one might say disingenuously: “Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality – and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected – can we start to make the changes that are needed.”
If Mr Lockwood doesn’t understand the cause by now, the role of the IOPC in it and the actions needed for remedy (which do not include constantly panderinging to the Police Federation), then he should go back to local government and leave the monitoring of policing to those more able and knowledgeable.
The equally ineffective National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) glossed over the scandal in its usual superficial, nothing to see here manner: “We are developing plans to address the disproportionality in the use of stop and search and to explain it and take action to reduce it wherever possible”.
NPCC’s spokesperson for stop and search is the Metropolitan Police Service‘s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Amanda Pearson, whose portfolio includes violence reduction. She goes on to say that chief constables will consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime. There is no acknowledgement or signaled intention to address the core findings of the inspection – and the consequent impact on public confidence in the police service. Which, one must observe, is routine for the policing body she represents.
In DAC Pearson’s own force, only six MPS officers have been disciplined over the misuse of stop and search since 2014. Despite receiving almost 5,000 complaints.
Figure obtained by the Press Association, using the Freedom of Information Act, show seventeen officers faced disciplinary proceedings. Of six allegations that were proven, four officers received management advice, one a written warning and another a final warning.
The data also shows the number of complaints more than doubled from 786 in 2019 to 1,744 in 2020, with the number of searches carried out rising from 268,771 to 319,713 in the same period.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said it shared concerns over the impact of disproportionality on community relations and was involved in numerous initiatives to tackle it. But did not specify what they were – or explain why they appear to be having little or no impact.
Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, whose usual starting point is to exempt the police service from any criticism, says stop and search saved lives after it helped remove 11,000 dangerous weapons from UK streets last year, adding that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime. Which is, of course, entirely correct but not the point in issue. Better (and lawful) targeting and more effective use of police time may well uncover more dangerous weapons.
He goes on to say: “We are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance, and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively, and that nobody is stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour.”
Mr Malthouse, in his familiar, glib, politician manner, skirts around the key findings of the inspection which are damning in any number of ways over police misconduct and lawful performance of duties.
Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association, is much nearer the mark and says the HMICFRS report “dispels some myths that are used to justify the disproportionate targeting of black communities” and that he hoped it would “allow police leaders to admit that racism is still present in our systems and processes”.
“We want to see determined, accountable and transparent action being taken to remove disproportionality and bias from policing,” he added.
But interestingly, apart from Mr George not one of the policing spokespersons or, indeed, any mainstream media report save that of The Guardian (whose reporter, Vikram Dodd, is of BAME origin), touches on ‘the elephant in the room’: Institutional racism in the police. The spectre of which raises its head once more, almost 22 years to the day after the publication of the iconic Macpherson Report, following the murder of South London teenager, Stephen Lawrence.
HMICFRS has said police forces will face further inspections on race, including on recruitment, ethics and techniques to avoid conflict. There will also be a full inspection of diversity across policing. This will bring troubled West Yorkshire Police very much into focus, not least because of damning reports such as these elsewhere on this website (read here and here).
Wendy Williams is to be warmly applauded for such a searching inspection and pulling no punches in her reporting of it. This is her biography as posted on the HMICFRS . Impressive on any measure and, very arguably, the most effective recruit ever to the ranks of criminal justice watchdogs.
Page last updated on Suday 28th February, 2020 at 0855hrs
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