Adam Simmonds is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire.
It is my ambition to make Northamptonshire the Safest Place in England. In doing so, I want to ensure that the powers used by Northamptonshire Police work with the understanding and support of our communities.
Stop and Search is one of the most controversial powers at the police’s disposal. It plays a critical role in crime prevention, helping to catch criminals and offering protection to the public. But it must be used responsibly if the public are to continue to have trust in the police. Despite 20 years of national focus on Stop and Search and the largely positive steps the police have made, the concern of the public remains.
When a black man is seventeen and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white man (as recent statistics show was the case in Dorset), something is fundamentally wrong with the policy. More work needs to be done to restore trust and accountability in the system, especially among young people and ethnic minority communities. In Northamptonshire last year, 64 per cent of people stopped and searched were aged between 13 and 24.
A recent report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary further highlights the severity of the problem. It highlighted that in 27 per cent of cases, police failed to show they had reasonable grounds to carry out a search. That is the equivalent of 250,000 people every year being stopped and subjected to hugely intrusive searches without the police sticking to the rules. Quite simply, carrying out unreasonable stop and searches at this level is unacceptable and an affront to justice.
The Home Secretary has rightly made it clear that if stop and search does not become more targeted and if stop and arrest ratios do not improve markedly, the Government will have to legislate. Police forces in England and Wales have a responsibility to heed her words and restore confidence in local policing.
Police officers who carry out stop and searches must be accountable for their actions. If an officer fails to follow the correct procedures such as identifying themselves and explaining why they are carrying out a search, they must face the consequences. I am fortunate that Northamptonshire Police is leading the way in reforming stop and search. In the last year, local police leaders have met the challenge with a suite of reforms that puts them ahead of any force in the country.
The force has set up a ‘Reasonable Grounds’ Panel consisting of senior officers and members of the public to adjudicate over stop and searches. The panel has the power to remove stop and search powers from the officer in question should it be determined that he or she had carried out three unreasonable stop and searches. Taking away an officer’s power to carry out a stop search is dramatic and, while not a common occurrence in Northamptonshire, it sets out the seriousness both the force leadership and I take of the issue, to ensure it is used appropriately to protect the public and prevent crime, whilst maintaining public trust and confidence.
Restorative justice needs to be at the heart of stop and search. That is why I would like to see local forces go further. I believe members of the public who have been unreasonably stopped and searched should be offered the opportunity to seek a face to face apology from the officer in question and discuss the impact it had on them. That individual should also be invited to accompany the police on a routine patrol.
This week, I have announced that Duwayne Brooks, a friend of Stephen Lawrence who was with him the night of his murder, will be undertaking an independent review of Stop and Search in Northamptonshire. I want to be assured that the progress made by Northamptonshire Police is being seen and felt in communities across our county. I intend the independent review to be a driver for continued reform of Stop and Search to further improve the vital relationship between the Police and the public.
The public must have complete faith in our law enforcement agencies. Trust can only come through a more transparent and accountable system. If police officers misuse their stop and search powers, they are breaking down that trust.