We are lucky enough to have been provided with some more insightful thoughts from Paul Clements, direct entry superintendent for City Police. In this latest blog, he writes about the need for fair treatment with ‘stop and search’.
I’ve never been stopped by the Police.
Never had to account for where I was going or what I was doing. Never had my pockets turned out on the street. Never had my inside leg patted down. Never had that flush of shame at feeling I’d somehow done something wrong. Never been searched in front of my neighbours, my friends, my family.
And I’ve never had it happen again and again.
I can only imagine how embarrassing it would be. How invasive, how uncomfortable, how upsetting.
But it’s never happened to me.
And that’s why it was so important to me to get the chance to spend some time last month with young Londoners who shared their experiences of being stopped and searched.
The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust arranged a valuable week of community partnership events for the London-based Direct Entry Superintendents in Lewisham, South East London. We were hosted by Lewisham Police’s hugely impressive and energetic partnerships team, Inspector Chattenton and Sgt Biddle, and the week culminated in an evening hosted by Phil Turner at Second Wave Youth Arts in Deptford.
Second Wave does amazing work engaging with young people, developing their skills and confidence. They also work closely with Lewisham Police on a range of issues, including stop and search.
I believe that stop and search powers are an indispensible tool. They help us combat a range of offences, and crucially, they help deter our young people from carrying knives.
Each and every young Lewisham resident I spoke to that week felt the same way.
They want knives off their streets every bit as much as we do – they’re the ones getting hurt. And I heard this from young people who’d had bad experiences being stopped, sometimes twice in the same day.
It’s not the fact that they’re stopped and searched they have a problem with – it’s how we do it. They just want us to show a bit more humanity.
Second Wave hold workshops with police officers demonstrating how stop and search should be done. I watched young Lewisham residents and probationers act out scenarios they’d written together to demonstrate both the good and the bad.
In one scenario, officers treated the young people they searched as if they were extremely dangerous from the start. Their communication was limited to reciting ‘Go Wisely’, delivered impersonally, without warmth. The kids in turn responded with anger and attitude. Of course we need to search lawfully, but we need to do more than that. We need to engage. It’s the right thing to do, and without it, how can we engender the trust we need to get young people to tell us what’s happening in their communities?
Then I saw how it should have gone. Officers – empathetic, sensitive. Young people – patient, responsive.
Why do we get this wrong sometimes? Why do we sometimes stop talking like human beings? I’ve blogged before about the effects of risk aversion and a quick survey of officers suggests that the spectre of a potential complaint may affect how we act. Are we now so scared of how politically sensitive stop and search has become that we stick too rigidly and robotically to the script (to make sure it’s lawful) and in so doing, lose the humanity of our interactions? If so, this is an opportunity lost. An opportunity to reach out to the Community. To explain our thinking. Our purpose.
In March, I stopped a young man for driving without insurance. He worked for his Uncle’s firm, driving a delivery van. I seized the vehicle. He phoned his cousin, who was driving another van, to come and get him. I asked him to make sure the second van was insured before it got here or I’d have that one too. The van I’d seized was full of cakes for a wedding in Hackney. They were frantic that they were delayed, so I rolled my sleeves up and helped the lads shift the cakes into the second van and off they went. Later, I got asked why I’d helped. Well, I’d seized his van, reported him and given him some advice – helping move the cakes was just the normal thing to do wasn’t it? But what if I dropped one? What if they complained? What if the cakes had drugs hidden in them? The conclusion from a couple of PCs I’ve asked since was that it just wasn’t worth the risk. As I’ve said before – If officers make decisions, with the best of intentions, and using the right decision-making processes, – we should support them, regardless of what happens. Otherwise where’s the incentive for officers to show our human side?
The Second Wave workshops are incredibly valuable. Young people get to meet officers and tell them how they would like to be treated. Officers get to practise and receive feedback in a safe space. I saw young people find out all about officers: their backgrounds, their interests, their aspirations. And I saw officers doing the same.
I saw ‘human’ relationships develop between police and community that will transcend mere stop and search encounters.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the City of London Police, Canterbury Christ Church University, or the College of Policing.