Asking individuals to account for their presence or behaviour is an integral part of everyday policing, and has always been so. Although just one of a multitude of tools available to police officers in the course of their duty, stop and search nevertheless offers a legitimate power to protect local people and businesses and helps keep our streets safe. But we must not underestimate the impact that stop and search encounters can have on communities and individuals and how critical it is that such powers are used in a fair and effective way to maintain trust and confidence among the public.
In the early days of my first PCC term, it was quite apparent that stop and search contributed to feelings of mistrust and dissatisfaction with the police among our BME communities. To gain a true insight into the negative perceptions held, I commissioned a report to collect personal experiences of policing within the BME community with the purpose of strengthening and improving relationships.
That report made for uncomfortable reading and was the launch pad for a series of improvements not only increasing transparency of the use of stop and search but also toughening up procedures to ensure every use of these powers was fair, balanced and justified.
Today, Nottinghamshire is in a very different position. Sweeping change to increase accountability and scrutiny is breaking down the barriers that existed between police and the BME community and increasing the public’s acceptance of these powers.
Nottinghamshire Police now has one of, if not the, lowest use of stop and search powers in the country and one of the highest arrest and positive outcome rates. In 2015-16, the total number of stop and search encounters fell by almost 40 per cent compared to the previous 12 months while 379 arrests were made as a result of these powers – this includes 50 arrests for possessing weapons. This accounts for 13.2 per cent of all stop and search arrests made by the force and demonstrates what a vital crime fighting tool it is by removing dangerous weapons from the streets.
Scrutiny has been key to improvement. Officers are performance managed to ensure all stop and searches are accurately and lawfully recorded, that they have recorded clear and lawful grounds and that the location of the stop and search is accurately recorded. Supervisors are actively managed to ensure every stop and search record is reviewed for quality, with feedback given to officers where the required standard is not met.
The data is collected centrally and managed at regular performance meetings to ensure officers and supervisors are doing what is required and that activity is taking place where it should be, based upon crime trends and hotspot’ analysis.
These systems help the force to understand the proportionality of the searches so it can increase effectiveness. Searches are also being targeted more effectively, using current intelligence that is actively communicated to officers through daily briefings.
Importantly, stop and search statistics aren’t just available internally. A wealth of information is communicated to the public via the force’s website, judged to be one of the two best nationally for publicising stop and search updates. Here, local residents can find the latest stop and search rates, examine papers from the Stop and Search Scrutiny Board and browse through frequently asked questions regarding the rights of individuals subjected to the powers, how to complain, what the legalities are and policing procedures.
Figures are important but cannot compare with first-experience and so the development of a lay observer scheme whereby members of the public can accompany police officers in the course of their duty and watch the powers in use has been extremely useful in building trust. Many members of the BME community have taken the opportunity to take part in the scheme and the feedback has been positive.
Young people are particularly impacted by stop and search and the use of the powers has often fuelled negativity towards the police among this group. We’re working hard to address this by empowering young people themselves to improve perceptions. My Youth Commission are working closely with the force to see how they can better communicate the rights of young people and how to use social media to achieve this.
The path to progress continues and we recognise that there is always more to be done. While Nottinghamshire is already held as an example of best practice nationally more community engagement work and internal frontline training is necessary to expand our position. The focus on necessity, proportionality and effectiveness will continue to govern the way forward to continue building public support and understanding among all our communities.
Padding Tipping, Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire