22 September 2016

HMIC Report on police Compliance with the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSS) Out Today

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StopWatch welcomes Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s (HMIC) inspection of police force compliance with the Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme. Yet, this report raises serious concerns about the quality of the inspection process and makes recommendations that threaten to undermine the reforms made to stop and search. Overall, the continued lack of compliance with the low standards of the voluntary scheme highlights the need for primary legislation with much stronger standards. Something that Prime Minister Theresa May promised as Home Secretary back in 2014.

Almost two years since its introduction, the report reveals that some police forces are still struggling to comply with the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme. The Scheme promised greater transparency, community involvement and improved stop and search outcomes through supporting intelligence-led approaches and increased monitoring. The HMIC’s re-inspection of the 13 police forces that were not complying with three of more features of the Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme in 2015 was revealed today.

 

At the time of the re-inspections between June and August 2016, only six forces of the 13[1] were found to be compliant with all features of the scheme, with seven still not compliant. Whilst the HMIC now states that all forces have achieved full compliance, they have determined this without formally inspecting the failing 6.

 

StopWatch welcomes improved compliance with the BUSS scheme but there are serious concerns regarding HMIC’s response.

 

Neena Samota, visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster and a member of StopWatch, said:

 

“We had hoped that the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme, which was launched after the HMIC uncovered ‘alarming’ and ‘disturbing’ evidence of non-compliance with the statutory regulations, would lead to significant improvements, but have been left disappointed.”

 

She added: “The requirements of the Scheme are not particularly onerous and forces have been given every opportunity to ensure that they meet the necessary standards. Even so seven forces failed to meet these standards when the follow-up inspection was carried out, but were then given a clean bill of health without a further visit. This is pretty Kafkaesque and the Scheme seems to have become little more than a box-ticking exercise. The suspicion is that forces that have dragged their heels have been let off the hook, which sends out completely the wrong message.”

 

The HMIC’s recommendation to allow officers of inspector to chief superintendent rank to authorise the use of no-suspicion stop and search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, but only in exceptional circumstances when a senior officer is not available is of particular concern to StopWatch.

 

Dr Michael Shiner, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and a member of StopWatch, said:

 

“We are particularly disappointed by the recommendation to downgrade the rank of officers who are able to authorise the use of Section 60 searches. This, as the HMIC notes, is a particularly controversial stop and search power and is one that has been badly misused in the past. The worst excesses associated with Section 60 may have been bought under control, but now is not the time to water down existing regulations.

 

“The recommendation is all the more bizarre given that none of the forces which already allowed lower ranking officers to authorise the power have had to use this contingency measure since the last Inspection. Reducing the rank of the authorising officer is a retrograde step that jeopardises any improvements in trust and confidence that may have been achieved by the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme.”

 

In February this year the HMIC reported that the fair and ethical treatment of people by the police in England and Wales was at serious risk of being undermined by the continued failure of forces to ‘get stop and search right’. StopWatch underscores the need for sustained reform to be at the centre of this area of policing, noting the damage misuse of stop and search can inflict on communities and their relationship with police forces whose trust and legitimacy are brought into question through abuse of power. We call on the new Home Secretary to draft primary legislation that sets high standards to ensure meaningful reform of stop and search. Further, an overhaul of the HMIC’s inspection process is paramount to progress in this area and must include more robust inspection processes ensuring that subject experts and community members play a central role.

 

It is clear that the police cannot be expected to reform themselves and membership of a voluntary scheme has not driven the desired change, re-inspection notwithstanding. In April 2014, Prime Minister Theresa May, then Home Secretary, promised that if these reforms failed, she would bring forth primary legislation. StopWatch therefore calls on PM Theresa May and the Home Office to keep their promise, introducing primary legislation to reform stop and search once and for all.

 

We recommend that:

·         The HMIC’s inspection process be overhauled to include more robust inspection processes, with a requirement that subject experts and community members play a central role.

·         The BUSS scheme be scrapped and replaced by primary legislation which, at the very least, covers the same minimum requirements of the BUSS scheme.

·         S.60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act be repealed;

·         S.1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) be re-drafted so as to restrict stop and search to situations where a constable has a genuine and reasonable belief that wrongdoing is afoot;

·         S.1 PACE be amended to ensure that groundless searches or those based on unjustified or unreasonable suspicion are prohibited;

·         Officers repeatedly stopping and searching people without grounds (i.e. unlawfully) are be subject to disciplinary proceedings and stripped of the power to conduct searches;

·         S.1 PACE be amended to record and monitor traffic stops in the same way as stop and search;

·         S1 PACE be amended to require the recording of strip searches in the same way as stop and search. 

 

[1] The  13 forces subject to a revisit inspection were: Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northumbria, Staffordshire, South Wales, Warwickshire, West Mercia; and Wiltshire.