It would be better to allow officers the powers only when they have demonstrated clear and consistent competence
Northamptonshire Police is looking at proposals to make individual police officers apologise if they use stop and search powers without justification. So is this a good idea? One that will genuinely improve relations between the police and communities as intended?
Northamptonshire’s Conservative police and crime commissioner, Adam Simmonds, is right to look at this issue because of concerns about the low conversion rate between stop and search and conviction rates. Less than 10 per cent of stop and searches lead to an arrest, and in almost thirty per cent of stops there were deemed to be insufficient grounds.
That most of the public have confidence in this use of stop and search police powers, according to a YouGov study, is no justification for this continued approach, as we have a public with very conservative views on public order and justice. More worrying is the mind boggling discovery that stop and search powers have been used on 300 toddlers.
The disproportionate use of the powers against black and ethnic minority members of the community continues to give cause for concern. Simmonds is to be commended for his appointment of Duwayne Brooks, a friend of Stephen Lawrence who was with him at the time of his murder, and a former Liberal Democrat councilor, to conduct a review into stop and search for the service.
Simmonds has also introduced a sanctions initiative, where stop and search rights will be withdrawn from any officer who has inappropriately applied the power on three occasions.
The problem with the latest idea is that corporate apologies can ring very hollow, a bit like the naughty child made to say sorry to a sibling, with a parent standing over them. The apology never sounds genuine, like they really mean it, and the person receiving it knows that the naughty child is highly likely to poke their tongue out as soon as the parent goes away.
The person on the receiving end of the misdemeanour knows that they still need to watch their back when around the naughty child who has just been made to say sorry; only they will be angrier next time.
Further, the use of a three-strikes approach against officers is setting them up against the community, with its punitive approach, and pits officer against community member, which is counterproductive to the aim of achieving greater police-community relations.
The police would be better looking at the issue the other way around, and expect that officers will only be able to use the powers only after they have demonstrated clear and consistent competence. New officers, during their probationary period, will have extensive training, working closely with members of the public and communities during this period, and to a clear set of standards.
Lastly, police should also build on the initiatives many have already embarked on, around building community cohesion and greater integration. For too many, contact with the police is still solely about crime and punishment. The police are still too remote, and mutual suspicion between them and communities has not significantly shifted in recent decades.
The widening of the entrance criteria for new candidates may be a factor that contributes to greater trust, particularly with older trainees being recruited in greater numbers.
In this case, sorry is not the hardest word. Glib corporate apologies are likely to be perceived as meaningless, and indeed as adding insult to injury.
Claudia Tomlinson is an equality campaigner and writer. Follow her on Twitter
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