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Why the HMICFRS report into the section 60 super-complaint will lead to better outcomes for everyone

Police ethics advisor Montell Neufville who has received 18 policing awards for influencing policing for good gives his views on the HMIC, IOPC, and College of policing response to the super complaint

I would first like to talk about police decision-making and policing culture. The ultimate job of policing is to protect people and property. To arrest offenders and to prevent crime. In doing the role they have a number of considerations, in no particular order, to be fair, balanced and proportionate, to listen and use the right appropriate language, to be empathetic and have an open mind. Its about problem solving, mediating and being a leader. It's about taking control and leading by example. Reconsigning that you might not have all the answers right now, you may need to investigate and come back with a response.

Background to the super complaint

In May 2021 the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) which has around 200 civil society members, made a super-complaint to the government in relation to how section 60 powers are used across the country. Although the use of section 60 powers isn't seen as an issue in Bedfordshire, our residents travel into London and other areas where it is seen as a problem. For that reason I am fully supportive of the CJA that the application and misuse of section 60 powers is causing More harm than good.

The common debate around stop and search powers makes two assumptions. First, that the powers are used in the same way right across the country, and secondly, in most cases police officers misuse stop and search powers.

English law applies across the whole of the land, however how policing works in the country isn't consistent. There are 43 police forces with their own priorities, minimum standards and ways of doing things. Even within each force there are individual police officers of various ranks in many units and of a wide range of experiences who apply and interpret the same laws differently. Finally each individual situation is different so the laws and powers themselves need to be flexible enough to accommodate for these wide ranging discrepancies in policing.

Some civil society organisations criticise the report for three main reasons. First that it didn't interview young people who are disproportionately stopped under this power and second it didn't name and shame police forces who are or were abusing the powers. The report states:

We wanted to hear directly from people who have been stopped and searched under a section 60 authorisation. We tried several approaches but were unable to find anyone who had been stopped under this specific power to speak with us.
The Metropolitan Police Service uses the power more than any other police force in England and Wales. For the 12-month period to the end of March 2022, it carried out 1,760 searches under section 60. This represents 41 percent of all section 60 searches carried out in England and Wales. We know that stop and search can have negative effects on public trust and confidence in the police. That is why it is important stop and search powers are used legitimately, proportionately, when necessary and in a way that is procedurally fair.

So in my view they shouldn’t be criticised for trying. I am very much aware as someone who has chaired community scrutiny panels from 2015 that it is very difficult to get people who feel they have been wrongly treated to come forward, in particular young people.

The third reason people have criticised the report I have heard is that the use of the powers doesn't follow the Public Sector Equality Duty. In my view, when and where the powers are often utilised such as in London there is clear evidence that is the case, however it isn't the case by all officers all the time in all parts of the country.

Before I give my views on the recommendation I would highlight other key findings from the report which should please people working across civil society:

The police also have a legal responsibility to apply their powers fairly, and are required under the public sector equality duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality and foster good relations with and between different protected groups. Forces should have due regard to the public sector equality duty in their authorisation and use of all stop and search powers, including section 60.
There are various statutory safeguards and protections that the police must follow when they use all stop and search powers, including section 60. This includes PACE Code A.
Our investigation found policing needs to do more to apply existing safeguards to minimise any harm when section 60 is used, especially when children are stopped and searched. We want to see the police take a more active approach to building trust and confidence in their use of the power by setting clear objectives, evaluating whether their objectives are met and communicating this information to the public.

In my view, this is a very good outcome and what civil society wants for our communities. Overall across the board it is important to recognise the rarely for anyone influencing policing policy to always get everything they want. Sometimes it's important to compromise and take the wins where they occur.

What is section 60 and why is this an issue?

Police officers have a range of powers they can use when carrying out a stop-search. This is to search individuals for illegal items such as weapons or drugs. Most stop and search powers require reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying an illegal item on their person.

The contentious issues around section 60 powers are that they are often referred to as non-suspicion powers. This means that in some policing areas they have been interpreted as officers can search people for no reason, leading to high rates of disproportionality.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

A section 60 authorisation gives the police powers to stop and search people and vehicles, without suspicion, for “offensive weapons or dangerous instruments”. These powers only apply to a designated locality in a police force area for a set period.

An officer of the rank of inspector or above may authorise its use if they reasonably believe one (or more) of the following:

  • that incidents involving serious violence may take place in the police area; or • that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons without good reason in the police area; or • that an incident involving serious violence has taken place in the police area and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried by a person in the locality and an authorisation would help in finding that item.

The CJA considers the very low arrest rates and seizures of weapons after section 60 stop and searches show that section 60 is ineffective in dealing with violent crime.

The report goes on to say:

HMICFRS, College of Policing and IOPC the CJA maintains that people and communities are harmed by use of the power. It is concerned that it is a 'discriminatory and traumatising power', and that 'the impact of stop and search can be long-lasting and traumatising, especially when used on children and young adults'. The CJA argues that 'co-operation, trust and confidence is being undermined by unfair and disproportionate stop and search procedures'.

My view is that the report is right that this is the opinion of the CJA. It is also the opinion of HMIC itself, as expressed in their February 2021 report Disproportionate use of police powers – A spotlight on stop and search and the use of force and their previous findings ‘Stop and Search Powers: Are the police using them effectively and fairly?’ and the IOPC’s National Stop and Search learning report, which also support the notion that there is a problem with how the powers are being used in parts of the country by certain officers and forces.

When section 60 stop and search powers are authorised, officers can:

  • stop any pedestrian and search themor anything carried by them for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments; and
  • stop any vehicle and search the vehicle, its driver and any passenger for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments.

Officers have this search power whether or not they have any grounds for suspecting that the person or vehicle is carrying weapons or articles of that kind

Most forces in England and Wales rarely use section 60. Among the 43 Home Office police forces in England and Wales, only 17 recorded that they conducted at least one section 60 search in 2021/22. Of those, 8 forces accounted for almost 95% (4,111) of all section 60 searches.

This report aims is to raise the standards of the following: 1) Training; 2) Understanding the impact; 3) Use and authorisation; 4) accountability and reporting; 5) the role of community scrutiny and oversight.

Policing in the United Kingdom is devolved so chief constables lead forces, senior executive officers lead campaigns operations and teams, whilst sergeants lead tactical situations. Frontline sergeants are also responsible for implementing the policy on the ground.

In conversations around stop and search or section 60s, it is rare to hear of the Code of Ethics mentioned when talking about the use of these. There is a requirement to act with impartiality and not to act with prejudice. It is for individual officers, supervisors, and leaders to justify their decision making.

Some actions by officers should be praised, others promoted on the one hand, and on the other some actions should be prevented and where necessary some actions and behaviours should be punished.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was originally passed in order to deal with football hooligans who came together to arrange fights. Using the right tool for the right job analogy, it is clear that this power in some parts of the country is not the right tool, it's not used for the right purpose and it's not used at the right time. The reforms and recommendations as suggested will go some way to levelling up the scales of justice and improve policing outcomes for all.

Montell Neufville is managing director at ATT10TIVE Social Enterprise, formerly chair of Bedfordshire Police's Stop & Search Community Scrutiny Panel

All blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of StopWatch UK.

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