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opinion
18.02.2022

Bedfordshire scrutiny panel changes hands

Chair Montell Neufville steps down after 5 years, cites successes of the system

In 2016 Montell Neufville took over as chair of Bedfordshire's community scrutiny panel. On 01 January 2022 the panel was handed over. Montell now reflects on the achievements of what has become widely regarded as the most successful community scrutiny panel in the country.

Montell said: 'Looking back over more than five years I didn’t realise so much was involved and so much had been achieved, looking at the aims which were:

  • To build trust and confidence in police use of powers
  • To engage the community
  • To help ensure officers use their powers with honesty integrity and impartiality

Underpinning all of this was the negative perception many people within communities had of the police and also to some extent some negative perceptions a small number of officers had of some communities.'

5 years later: What has been achieved?

  • Bedfordshire has the best known community scrutiny panel in the country
  • The panel is large and diverse with a pool of 50 people representing diversity in age, gender ethnicity and lived experiences
  • It is seen as the go-to scrutiny panel for templates on effective representative engagement
  • We have seen the biggest fall in disproportionality rates in the country (although more work still needs to be done to eradicate this entirely)
  • One of the few if not the only panel in the country that learned and understands the reasons for disproportionality in stop and search and use of force
  • Systems and methods have been put in place which are now regarded as UK best practice such as:
    • Our traffic light system for measuring officer performance
    • Training methods for resident panel members
    • Internal and external communications to raise awareness of police powers, police action and to demystify police (openness and transparency)

What were some of the things that happened over the 5 years to break down barriers and build trust and confidence

  • We made a number of videos on the correct application of stop and search powers including one for police officers and one for the wider community
  • We produced booklets, a small handout for anyone who wanted to know what was required of officers and then a more detailed booklet for people who wanted an in-depth insight into policing powers, this is useful for law students, public service students and those studying criminology as well as community members interested in becoming a panel member.
  • Put in place a training package for new panel members
  • Built relations with all other internal policing units such as the communications team, the professional standards department, the training department and the force executive of senior leaders so they gain an understanding of what residents were thinking
  • We reached out to people in community groups, charities, schools, colleges and universities, parents and the business community to engage them in community scrutiny. Over 150 panel members had served on the panel over the 5-year period
  • Linked the work of the panel with wider policing strategies such as the 5-year policing plan, the safer neighbourhood team priorities, and the police crime commissioners work (The PCC’s office)

Montell added that 'there was and in some places still is a lot of mistrust between the police and communities':

'Much of this is down to how powers are used and perceptions. One of the things which I have learned in the role is there are many caring professional men and ladies at every rank level but there are issues. The police come from the community and within communities there are biases to different degrees. On some occasions how a person is treated could depend on what officer came across them and not what they did or were suspected of doing. We know in every area and every community there are offenders and possible offenders, it's not always an easy job to distinguish who is who without investigating... this is where fair policing comes in.

'Although we see them as “the police” and we expect a particular service or behaviour, I learned that some officers were new and inexperienced, some had bad habits, some made assumptions not based on fact or evidence and some made mistakes as people do in every profession. There are of course many who are professional and do a good job protecting people, fighting crime and protecting or recovering stolen property.

'One of the issues I spent a lot of time learning about and understanding was the issue of disproportionality. There were many excuses given for the high levels and the persistence of disproportionality over years. I read every report I could find and produced a problem-solving tool.

'I learned that nationally and with many police forces there were structural issue and a management problem that wasn’t being addressed in policing, (and it's still not fully addressed today). What I learned was this was caused by a number of factors:

  1. A small number of officers (usually around 2% or 3%) carried out the vast majority of stop searches without finding anything, making few arrests and having a high percentage of nothing found (often giving a search for drugs as a reason or vague grounds if any grounds at all)
  2. New officers were given a quota for conducting 5 stop and searches. If they were getting towards the end of their period and didn’t meet their quota some may choose “easy targets” just to meet the quota
  3. Some senior officers wanted their constables to be “putting hands in pockets”. In some cases this created a climate where some officers felt they were obliged to do this otherwise they would be seen unfavourably
  4. Some cars and even some individuals were given “markers” by the police and were repeatedly stopped and searched every time they saw them. So a small number of people or drivers had repeated stop searches without the lawful test being met.

'The problem with all this is poor policing practices undermined the overall fight against crime, it targeted people who could and should be allies and deterred people who could make a career in policing. These behaviours led to many good officers getting abuse from members of the public and led to victims of crime being reluctant to come forward.

'The solution was training for frontline officers and reminders to every rank level to use their powers fairly, to fight crime, protect the public and to protect property. They should not use their powers for non-policing reasons. These issues have a major impact on police legitimacy. Officers must act with integrity and challenge any unlawful orders and instructions. These solutions are the responsibility of supervisors, managers and leaders in policing to ensure professionalism and accountability. [This includes] having non-police officers feed into decision making and to support or even challenge decisions which had been made.

'Going forward I have every confidence that the new chair and the panel will continue this work, put their own stamp on things and continue to make a positive difference.'

Kimberley Lamb, who is now head of Bedfordshire’s violence and exploitation reduction unit, said: 'As former vice chair of Bedfordshire police’s stop and search scrutiny panel, it's been a delight to observe the further progress made by Montell (chair) and members. During my 4 years on the board, it was my privilege to experience Montell’s passion for improving how members of the public viewed the police as legitimate, and although there is clearly still more work to do, its pleasing to see that the work of the board continues to support the increase of trust and confidence in our Bedfordshire police service.'

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