2 February 2011

Government plays politics with police accountability

Kam Gill's avatar

​Nick Herbert, Minister of Justice for Policing and Criminal Justice, claims that cutting all recording of stop and account will save 450,000 hours of police time per year and reducing the recording of stop and search will save another 300,000 officer hours a year. This conjures up visions of officers, freed of ‘red tape’, getting on with the real job of fighting crime. Sounds good?

​Nick Herbert, Minister of Justice for Policing and Criminal Justice, claims that cutting all recording of stop and account will save 450,000 hours of police time per year and reducing the recording of stop and search will save another 300,000 officer hours a year. This conjures up visions of officers, freed of ‘red tape’, getting on with the real job of fighting crime. Sounds good? The trouble is the figures don’t add up and the claims are simply bogus. Worse, they ignore the fact that such cuts will reduce police accountability and damage community relations at a time when social tensions are likely to be exacerbated by deep public spending cuts.

When we break down the figures, it is clear that government estimates hugely exaggerate the time taken to record police stops. On average police officers conduct roughly two recorded stop searches or stop and accounts per month.  Even if we accept the government’s grossly inflated estimates of how long recording takes, the proposed changes would save individual officers an average of  around half an hour a month or 7 minutes a week.  Our own estimates suggest a figure of less than half this. While actual savings promise to be minimal, the costs for policing, in terms of lost public trust and confidence, may prove high. Added to which, increasing numbers of forces are introducing hand-held devices to record stops which cut paperwork while preserving accountability.

The proposed changes will remove five pieces of information from stop and search forms, including name and address of the person stopped; outcome of the stop (fixed penalty notices, arrest, etc); and any injury caused. Without this data, it will be much harder for the police and communities to determine how effectively stop and search is being used; whether it is targeting the right places and people; and to assess the validity of allegations of harassment and abuse.

StopWatch has closely monitored these developments, which are debated in the House of Commons on 2 February 2011.