Police stop and search a protester in the Westminster area. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Met has three tests to pass on Stop and Search

Tessa Jowell and Doreen Lawrence write on what the Met can do to ensure Stop and Search works for everyone. 

Two weeks ago, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe announced plans to increase the amount of targeted Stop and Search activity in London. While nearly everyone recognises that Stop and Search is an important tool for police officers to fight crime and reassure the public, it’s also clear that - when the power is not used properly - it can undermine trust in the police.

The overall use of Stop and Search in London has fallen under the current Met Commissioner. That is recognised as a good thing by young people in London, and has gone some way to improving relations between the police and black and minority ethnic communities. But following the Commissioner’s latest announcement, the Met must improve the way in which it uses its powers so as not to provoke mistrust between communities and the police.

For the last six months we have been speaking to young people in London affected by Stop and Search, either personally or through their friends and family. Together, we have published a report which makes three key demands of the Metropolitan Police. These demands are designed to ensure that Stop and Search is used in a way which builds, rather than undermines, confidence and trust between young people and the police. And remember – everyone benefits from increased trust, the police just as much as the public.

The first demand is about the use of body-worn cameras. The Met is rolling out the use of these cameras over the summer. Used properly, they could be a means not just of fighting crime but also of improving police accountability. But if they are not used properly it will undermine trust.

The Met must be clear that these cameras will prevent crime and serve citizens. There is no room for complacency. If the cameras are seen as just another tool in the armoury of the police, then they will do nothing to improve community relations.  Rather, they will erode trust and undermine police effectiveness. Officers must be required to record continuously all interactions that they have with the public during Stop and Search and Stop and Account. The Met have not yet published full guidelines on how and when body-worn cameras are to be used, potentially leaving this to the discretion of individual police officers.

Secondly, the Met must take immediate action to investigate and address the inconsistent use of Stop and Search slips. These slips – which are supposed to be issued for every Stop and Search as an official record of the police offer’s interaction with the individual – are not currently being issued properly. The young people we spoke to frequently pointed out that slips were not always offered after a stop. This makes it harder for people to prove they were stopped or to make a complaint.

Finally, it is only through independence in the training of police officers that the Met can prevent a culture of complacency and antagonism of young people. The Met should open up the way in which police officers are trained, ensuring it involves communities, and particularly young people, in design and delivery. And training should be overseen by an independent training provider, not just delivered in-house.

There is more that should be done. We need an increase in black and minority ethnic representation in the Met. For people to trust an institution or organisation, they need to feel that it represents them, that it looks like them. But currently, 40 per cent of Londoners are black and ethnic minority compared to just 15 per cent of police officers. The Met must more accurately reflect the population of London.

We need to keep a permanent watching eye on police and community relations through an annual review. And we should have a real, community-led Know Your Rights campaign which uses all mediums to make sure young people are aware of their rights.

Above all, we need the Met and City Hall to maintain an unflinching focus on building trust and respect. The pressures of fighting crime should never lead to a situation where the police are seen to be outside of the community. They must police communities with consent – by, of, for and with the people. We want to see the Met put trust and respect at the heart of their use of Stop and Search.

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear