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.