By Lydia Massey, Community Safety Policy and Project Officer at OPCC for Hertfordshire
In August 2014, Hertfordshire Constabulary signed up to the Best Use of Stop Search Scheme to ensure better scrutiny of stop and search. Following this, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) introduced an independent county-wide scrutiny Panel in 2015 made up of volunteers who live, work or study in Hertfordshire.
The Panel provides a voice for community concerns, undertaking scrutiny of records every month and robustly challenging the Constabulary which helps inform police training around stop and search practices. Our ambition is to ensure the Panel is reflective of Hertfordshire’s demographic, providing a forum where the stop and search experiences and concerns of all communities can be heard.
As with the national picture around stop and search, it’s predominantly those aged 18-24 who experience the highest number of searches in Hertfordshire, whilst those from BAME groups are disproportionately affected by stop and search. According to the 2011 Census, the population of Hertfordshire who identify themselves as White is 87.6%, and 12.4% identify as BAME. Our recruitment efforts have therefore focused on: increasing the number of members aged 18-30; increasing representation from BAME communities (ideally with a membership of at least 12% BAME); and increasing representation from each of the ten Community Safety Partnership areas in the county.
Over the last twelve months we have introduced some changes to the Panel in order to encourage diversity and improve accessibility such as:
- Introducing four evening meetings per year to enable those in employment, education or with other responsibilities greater flexibility in the choice of meetings they are able to attend.
- Holding meetings at different locations across Hertfordshire, particularly in the local areas with higher levels of stop and search.
- Targeted recruitment activity at the University of Hertfordshire in order to increase representation from BAME communities and those aged 18-30.
- Introducing an Annual Public Meeting open to the whole community.
- Developing a suite of materials such as videos designed to raise awareness of the Panel and to educate the public on what they can expect from officers should they be subject to a stop and search.
The panel has since gone from having one BAME panel member to four, with significant improvement in relation to age representation: all Panel members previously were over the age of 52, and now there are six members aged 18-35, and 14 aged 36 and above.
Scrutiny of stop and search use in Hertfordshire remains a priority to David Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire featuring in his Community Safety and Criminal Justice Plan (2017-2022). Recruiting a diverse Panel has not been easy and we remain realistic about the need to continue undertaking proactive work to further develop the Panel. We will continue to highlight the work of the Panel, promote vacancies and advertise public meetings in order to improve public confidence and trust in the way in which stop and search is conducted in Hertfordshire.
Further details about the work of the Hertfordshire Panel can be found here.