29 November 2019

Walking the line between being a critic and a friend

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How a fair and effective scrutiny of stop and searches leads to more equitable outcomes

The Bedfordshire Police stop and search panel has been highlighted as one of the most effective in the country. It is one of the few panels where its members who scrutinise the police look like the community it serves as the panel is made up of people are who are diverse in age and ethnicity.

One of the tools the panel uses is a traffic light system for monitoring and measuring officers. Green is a stop and search that has been used in line with GOWISELY, the code of ethics, and is the type of stop and search we want to see. Amber is something has been missed off or there are areas for improvement or advice, and red means that the stop and search was unacceptable. Either the standard was below what was required, the powers did not exist and excessive force was used, the officer discriminated, or it did not meet an ethical standard. The aim is to offer reassurance to all communities as well as to officers to use the powers but in a way which is fair, doesn’t discriminate and is ethical.

Bedfordshire's panel has now become the first in the country to use its scrutiny powers to refer police officers for misconduct for how they have used their stop and search powers. This year, two officers were identified by community members as using what they considered to be excessive force. A complaint was made to Montell Neufville, the chair of Bedfordshire stop and search panel, who instigated a community complaints trigger. This is the first time on record that this mechanism has been used. An emergency meeting was called for the sub-group who examined the body-worn footage.

The sub-group found that the officers exceeded their powers and the stop and search should be graded red and referred to Professional Standards Dept (PSD). PSD also thought that the officers exceeded their powers and referred this to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The IOPC studied the video and then interviewed the officers. After an investigation they concluded that action should be taken against the main officer and not the second officer. PSD disagreed and wanted action taken against both. This was the final outcome. Both officers received 'Management outcome' and put under supervision.*

It is critically important that officers use their powers fairly and are seen by the community to do so. We all want knives and drugs taken off our streets and for officers to check for stolen goods where there is reasonable suspicion and where the powers exist. On the other hand, it is important that there are consequences when and if the powers are misused.

Montell Neufville said: 'Building trust and confidence in policing is fundamental to tackling crime and the fear of crime. Here in Bedfordshire, we are working towards getting the balance right from with the much used term being a "critical friend", sometimes not too critical and sometimes not too friendly, as either can in itself be a problem. We represent our community so we have to be open and transparent'.

Montell Neufville is the chair of Bedfordshire Police's Stop & Search Community Scrutiny Panel

* This is disciplinary action. It means that the officer is put under performance review monitoring, (monitoring their actions and behaviours as it falls below the standard required of a police officer and it could lead to misconduct or capability both of which could be dismissable).