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The future of stop and search: the need for a national scrutiny body

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At a recent Public Policy Exchange event about the future of stop and search, Nina Champion, Director, and Kenya Lamb, Equalities Policy Officer, presented on how the Home Office should repeal suspicion-less searches, introduce a national oversight body for community scrutiny of stop and search, involve children and young adults in developing police practices, and improve their adherence to the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The event, ‘The Future of Stop and Search: Assessing Police Powers and Working to Ensure Proportionality’, took place on 12 May 2022 and was chaired by Bisola Akintoye, a solicitor and PhD candidate researching the intergenerational experience of racialised policing in Black communities. The other speakers included:

  • Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board & Commissioner leading on crime and policing for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED);
  • Andy George, President of the National Black Police Association;
  • Dr Mike Rowe, Lecturer in Public Sector Management, University of Liverpool; and
  • Sal Naseem, Regional Director for London, the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

A national oversight body for community scrutiny of stop and search

Speakers at the event called for community scrutiny to be mandated and assessed as part of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s (HMIC) inspection programme. Speakers also called for more independently-led scrutiny panels who have greater access to more information, such as body worn video, as recommended in CJA’s 2019 Stop & Scrutinise report.

CJA Director Nina echoed the need for better scrutiny of the use of stop and search at a local level. However, rather than set up new scrutiny groups at a regional level, which would add another layer of complexity to an already disjointed system, a national oversight body is needed instead. This body would support all community scrutiny mechanisms for stop and search, as well as look at national trends, as was recommended a year ago in the CJA’s super-complaint.

Repealing suspicion-less search powers

Nina reminded the audience about the Home Office’s Beating Crime Plan (July 2021) which permanently relaxed safeguards on the use of section 60 suspicion-less stop and search. Nina highlighted the harms caused by this power (citing CJA’s 2021 report More harm than good) and the CJA’s challenge to get it repealed via our super-complaint.

She also detailed our frustrations at the Home Office’s refusal to publish their evaluation and Equality Impact Assessment for relaxing Section 60 safeguards, despite CJA’s Freedom of Information requests. Nina argued that the government’s lack of transparency adds to the mistrust felt by communities who are disproportionately impacted by these powers.

Improving government’s adherence to equalities legislation

Kenya outlined the need for police forces to adhere to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) through robust, high-quality Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs). Kenya informed the audience she is leading a 12-month project to tackle racial disparities in the criminal justice system by improving the production of EIAs and urged officials who are involved in writing EIAs to get in touch to share their experiences and examples of good practice (kenya.lamb@criminaljusticealliance.org.uk).

Involving children and young adults in co-designing police practices

Kenya drew on her own positive experiences of being involved with the Alliance for Youth Justice, the Hope Collective and the Crown Prosecution Service scrutiny panel to urge the Home Office and police forces to actively involve and invest in children and young adults, to co-design solutions to tackle the root causes of violence, address racial disparities and hold the police to account, in order to build trust.

There were also shared concerns among speakers about the overuse of suspicion-less searches and the need for an increased focus on meaningful engagement with ethnic minority communities and young people to build trust. However, is clear that there is still much more to be done to implement and embed these changes to address the racial disparities and harms caused by stop and search, and to tackle the root causes of violence.

The event showcased the increased focus on the importance of more effective community scrutiny since the CJA’s Stop & Scrutinise report in 2019. We look forward to advising on the development of the new scrutiny framework the government has committed to produce by 2023 in Inclusive Britain, it’s response to the CRED report.

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