Aug 27, 2014

New Police Code of Conduct a welcome, but diluted step

The government's new police code of conduct was the result of a lengthy consultation on stop-and-search and the revelation by the HMIC that as many as 27% of all stop-and-searches could be unlawful.

The problems and consequences of the controversial tactic are many and this new code will address but a few, however, if a step in the direction is all you were after, it's a success.

The Code will allow those interested in the subject to get a closer look at how the tactic is used, improve data collection and further reduce the arbitray use of S60 - where officers can stop-and-search anyone in a given area without reasonable suspicion. It is hoped the new policy will increase public confidence in the tactic and the police themselves.

Missed opportunity

However, there are some glaring omissions that will limit the code's usefulness.

photo credit: belkus/flickr

While we welcome the police recording the outcome of every search (arrest, caution, penalty order) along with the correlation between the reason for the search and the reason for arrest, whether the suspect is charged will not.

Naturally this is a statistic that would have to be recorded later, but its use would allow for a more credible assessment of the effectiveness of stop-and-search than the current arrest rate, which effectively encourages police to arrest those they search on the most flimsy of evidence, to help improve the 'success' rate.

The 'success' rate of stop-and-search in England for the year 2012/2013 was 9% and roundly considered an unsuccess. This figure would likely be significantly less if the charge rate were used.

Furthermore, the 'success' rate relies on every officer handing out a receipt after every search. From scores of young people we have spoken to, we know that this is not happening. The new code offers nothing to address this concern.

Again, if this was done, we believe it would have a significant and negative impact on the 'success' rate.

Only after these two issues are addressed - SSLP highlighted them as major concerns in it consultation response - can we really understand the weakness or effectiveness of the tactic. The government has let an opportunity slip.

On the plus side

On the plus side we will now be able to better assess the link between the reason given for a search with the reason for an arrest. We already know that 40% of arrests in London bear no correlation to the lawful reasons to search a member of the public indicating the 'going fishing' nature of stop-and-search that so damages community relations. The new data should help further expose the problem and the lack - or quality - of intelligence being used.

photo credit: belkus/flickrThe Code also seeks to improve accountability by requiring local forces to explain themselves when significant numbers of complaints are received in particular areas. Again, this is welcome but for it to work an awareness raising and confidence building programme will need to be implemented in areas where stop-and-search rates are high, so people know they need to complain. Then of course people need to know how to complain and what to do when it's rebuffed.

Of course what is really needed is a revamp of the whole complaints system as Theresa May acknowledged earlier this year. In 2012 not a single complaint about stop-and-search was upheld, so it's no surprise there is little faith in the system.

The Code will also allow members of a community to join officers to observe how they conduct stop-and-search in a bid to build public confidence and trust. Of course if all officers acted professionally while carrying out stop-and-search and only did so when there was genuine suspicion they were carrying something unlawful maybe they wouldn't need to.

All-in-all the Code is a gentle step in the right direction that will require close monitoring to see it is effective in fulfilling its somewhat diluted aims.

SSLP's Rebecca Niblock said: "The Code is good in principle and has the potential to effect change, but only if it's taken seriously by the police. The introduction of more detailed data collection is welcome but doesn't go far enough. And lay observation schemes are welcome, particularly if they are developed in a way that encourages community cohesion, however this needs to go alongside a willingness for the police to be observed - and indeed filmed - by any member of the public."

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