Posted: Thursday 4th June 2020
Volunteers’ Week: Scrutiny of Police Powers Panel
For Volunteers’ Week we spoke to Chair of the Scrutiny of Police Powers (SOPP) Panel, David Woodward, about the important role of the Panel and acting as a critical friend to Avon and Somerset Police.
What does the SOPP panel do?
When the SOPP Panel was set up in 2017, I joined as one of 16 lay people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. I was vice chair of the Panel for the first two years and have been chair since September 2019. The Panel meet four times a year to review police records and view body worn video (BWV) to scrutinise the use of stop and search, taser and spit/bite guards.
Acting independently of the police, the Panel provide local resident’s views of police officers’ use of force, in order to:
- Act as a ‘critical friend’;
- Improve and maintain local people’s trust and satisfaction with the police; and
- Support the openness and transparency of the police in delivering a high quality police service.
The Panel’s role is incredibly important, for both the police and local communities. Here’s a flavour of how our role has helped make a difference:
- Our observations of BWV help to monitor the issue of disproportionality, often in relation to Stop and Search;
- Increasing the use of BWV for police officers. For example, in Stop and Search the use of BWV has increased from 52% in July 2017 to 90% in March 2020;
- Establishing a change in protocol for the use of BWV in taser incidents; and
- Introducing a training programme for all front line officers to ensure they understand the benefit of de-escalation for officers, victims, by-standers and suspects.
How has your role adapted since the Covid-19 lockdown?
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on my role and how the Panel operates; meetings are now conducted remotely, which includes reviewing BWV at home. From a personal point of view, I have not left my home for 10 weeks as I have been shielding, so I have had every opportunity to be fully involved in organising and participating in this new way of working.
In particular, due to the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, local people’s confidence in the police may have changed. We have extended our role to include scrutinising BWV of officers’ interactions with local people during lockdown and we will continue to do so.
What does being a volunteer mean to you?
I relish the challenge of being involved in this most worthwhile Panel. Now I have retired, I have the time and opportunity to give something back to the community. As a SOPP member I make an important contribution to police effectiveness and accountability, as well as developing the local people’s confidence in Avon and Somerset Police.
I was greatly heartened by the HMICFRS’s report on Avon and Somerset Police in February 2020, which complimented the Panel and stated that its ‘unique view into the use of police powers shows the Constabulary’s willingness to work and build relationships with those harder to reach or less trusting members of the community.’
I look forward to reviewing more police records in the coming year as our country returns to a new normal.