Posted: Tuesday 11th November 2014
Stop and Search isn’t working. That was the premise for the summit held on 30th Sept at Police H.Q. and attended by a very varied audience, which included senior, training and operational police officers, members of local Avon and Somerset communities and academics and policy makers. The aim of the morning was straightforward: how can the police turn stop and search into an effective and positive policy which would support both law enforcement and community confidence?
But why, 30 years after Stop and Search was introduced in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, (a result of the urban riots of 1981 which affected many inner city locations) is this still an urgent question? The simple answer is that Stop and Search alienated young black men and their families when it was introduced, and, shockingly, still upsets B.M.E. communities today. Young men (and it is usually men) whose skin tones or dress codes differ from the perceived white ‘norm’ still feel that they are picked on by the police and detained when going about everyday activities by having to account for their actions and intentions, and be searched. The summit was shown a stunning new film by local Bristol filmmaker Michael Jenkins, in which both young and more mature men spoke of their experience of being harassed in this way, past and present. This was a vivid visual reminder of the longevity of the problem which has now continued for 2 generations. All talked about how being stopped made them feel powerless, angry, fearful and less likely to trust the police.
We learnt that the statistics, often reduced to simple but powerful media headlines, are extremely complex, and can make the reader’s head spin. But the film was a powerful reminder that whether or not the statistics prove or disprove bias, bias is what BME communities feel. And so overcoming and transforming this continuing crisis in community confidence is what our local police now intend to do. By the end of the morning, and after an hour’s whole-room discussion, with different views and ideas discussed, the police unveiled their action plan, based on the ideas which had come from everyone in the room. The Acting Chief Constable, supported by our PCC, Sue Mounstevens, promised that the plan would start the next day. He also asked the audience to hold the police to account by returning for another summit in 6 months’ time, to see if Stop and Search was changing.
Why was I there? I’m a white, middle-class professional woman of maturing years: I’ve never been stopped and searched. But I had a number of reasons for coming along. As a young probation officer, I lived in Brixton, (where some of the worse riots occurred in 1981) and where, for the 8 years I continued to live in the Borough, I heard the stories of the indignities of stop and search from those I knew who had experienced it- friends, neighbours, colleagues and associates. So it has left powerful, if second hand, memories for me. But importantly, I was there as a member of Sue Mounstevens’ Independent Residents Panel. Stop and Search is often a reason for members of the public to complain to the police, and we read and review their stories and testimonials, learning about recent and fresh events. So I am doubly reminded about the impact which Stop and Search creates and the effect it has.
As panel members, we know the value of complaints to the police. Yes, the value, and I chose the word carefully. Because it is only when aggrieved citizens, those who feel something went wrong when they encountered the police, do complain, that the police get the important feedback which tells them that something is amiss. And it is this feedback which helps the police improve, change the way they do things, learn lessons and consider alternatives. So if anyone is stopped and searched, and feels that the police had no lawful reason to do this, or the person’s rights weren’t explained or the police were uncivil or aggressive whilst conducting their business, it’s so important to tell the police. This will be one of the most important ways of showing if the new policies and promises are really working.
Member of the Independent Resident's Panel