Wednesday, 18 December 2013

NMP Olympics Policing Report Highlights Reality of Stop & Search

This morning, Newham Monitoring Project published a report setting out  how it deployed close to a hundred 'community legal observers' (CLOs) during last summer's Olympics and how the experiences of these volunteers can help other organisations, both in the UK and abroad, to consider using a similar community legal observation model in the future. You can download a copy here.

I contributed to writing the report and recommend reading the daily 'timeline' appendix summarising some of the feedback from CLOs who were out on the streets. Amongst the stories is one incident, similar to so many others we heard repeatedly during the Olympics, that involved a young Asian man who chose to assert his rights when he was stopped and searched in Stratford. It illustrates how, even when someone is confident and knowledgeable about their rights, this is not enough to prevent a frustrating and intimidating encounter with the police:
While waiting for my partner at Stratford station, I was approached by three officers yelling 'take your hands out of your pockets'. As they gathered around me, I asked what they wanted and was told they had planned to just ask me some questions but because I was being ‘aggressive’ and ‘anti-police’ they were now going to carry out a stop and search.

One officer began the search without any explanation, so I asked why they were failing to follow ‘GOWISELY’ (an acronym used in police training as a reminder of information officers must provide when they perform a stop and search1). The officer was very unhappy I asked this and after consulting his colleagues, he said I was suspected of placing drugs in my socks. Officers were very rude as they then began the search and asked many questions, which I chose not to answer. They also threatened me with arrest when I refused to provide my name and address.

My partner arrived as the search was almost completed. As I explained what had happened, one of the officers called out to her: 'does he lie like this to you all the time?' They then said I was free to leave but I reminded them that they had forgotten to offer me a record of the search and I wanted one. The officers kept insisting to my partner 'he is free to go, he is a free man' but she politely said, 'I think he wants his receipt, even if we’re late'. One of the officers then filled in a search record and handed it to me, which said I had been seen pulling up my socks and had appeared agitated around a sniffer dog – which hadn't even arrived until after the search had begun. I immediately challenged the search record and said it was false. One officer again told my partner that I was a liar and walked away to write up his notes. Luckily I had paper and a pen with me and was able to note the officers' badge numbers. I am now pursuing a formal complaint.
What makes this young man different from many of his peers is that he happens to be a caseworker for Newham Monitoring Project and somebody who provides advice and training on police stop and search powers. He also has a law degree, but all the officers saw was a someone young and black, which was enough to make him a suspect.

As NMP's report notes, "It is hardly surprising that, in similar circumstances, someone who is far less confident about their rights would find those rights are ignored". And in this is the basis for everything we have argued about why the police are still not trusted by young people.

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