Tuesday 22 November 2011

What's In Newham's Stop & Search Scrutiny Report?

Last week, the final report of the Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Commission ‘Review of Stop and Search Procedures in Newham’ [PDF] was finally discussed by the council’s Cabinet after it slipped off its agenda in July. It makes for interesting reading.

It confirms that during June and July 2010, compared to neighbouring boroughs, Newham’s police carried out the highest number of stop and searches under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. 'Section 60s', unlike other police stop & search powers, do not require an officer to justify having a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person may be about to commit a crime (although justifications under other powers can often seem pretty dubious). The report also confirms that the impact of this ‘intelligence-led’ power, usually justified to tackle knife crime, was very low, that few people stopped were ever carrying a knife and that “it was very difficult to assess what crime had been prevented by stopping and searching members of the public”.

Nevertheless, Newham's senior officers told the Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Commission that the local police have “the support of the community” in using these powers and that “consultation took place, in particular with young people”. However, the evidence provided by focus groups of young people themselves seems to suggest a far less rosy picture. The Commission found that:

"Overall, there were fairly negative connotations and experiences associated with stop and search procedures. A general lack of explanation and being stopped for no apparent reason was evident in the experiences of the young people in the groups. Feelings associated with stop and search included resentment, embarrassment, frustration and the feeling that it was a waste of time. More explanation, respect and privacy were wanted if young people were to be stopped and searched. It was also very much thought that stop and search procedures was not as random as it should be and that the young people felt targeted for a number of reasons e.g. race/ethnic background, appearance, social class, etc".

Unfortunately, the response of the Youth Strategy Lead for Newham Police, Chief Inspector Gary Brown, was not a recognition that stop & search is something of a blunt instrument, one that produces limited results in combating knife crime and is, according to the testimony of young people, not always conducted in a “respectful and dignified manner”. Instead, he dismissed the Scrutiny Commission’s qualitative research as unrepresentative compared to the “thousands of young people” he had personally spoken to.

The overall impression is that although "feedback is welcome", Newham's police treated the Scrutiny Commission as a distraction that can be safely ignored, despite statistics released in July 2011 [PDF] that show there were 13,780 'Section 60s' in Newham over a 12-month period (one that doesn't include August's riots). Chief Inspector Brown, in the formal response to the report [PDF], offers only to "look into" the recommendation for ‘young engagement classes for officers’, which somehow managed to attract some publicity in the Evening Standard last week. My guess is the idea is unlikely to ever materialise.

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