Reasonable Grounds?

| No responses | Posted by: Catherine Russell | Theme: Work with Communities

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) released findings yesterday highlighting that over a quarter of stop and searches had no justifiable reason for a search recorded. [1]

Last year, The Young Foundation spent time with young people in Haringey, exploring their experiences of stop and search. Our conversations closely mirrored HMIC’s findings. Far too often young people don’t understand why they are stopped, or are given an invalid reason: “When I was stopped and searched I was just told I “looked suspicious”. Many had come away from searches without proper documentation, which officers are required to give them.

Young man being stopped and searched by police officersAccording to the Metropolitan Police, reasonable grounds for stop and search are counted as: if an individual matches a description, if there is reason to believe an individual is carrying a weapon or drugs, or if there has been a serious crime in the vicinity. [2]

However, many of the young people that we spoke with believed that the way they looked or dressed was the most likely factor to result in them being stopped and searched. Comments such as, “If you’re tall and black you’re asking for trouble” were commonplace.

Young people felt passionate about this injustice, but equally powerless to change the situation. One young man commented, “I remember a police officer laughing when he searched me. Some police officers feel like they can do anything they want and they don’t have to give detail [for the search]. If I take their number, what will happen?”

Being searched without reason may be down to any number of causes. HMIC suggest absence of training around what counts as ‘reasonable grounds’ for a search, and a lack of supervision by senior officers. [3]

Whatever the reason, the outcome is that these searches feed into people’s fears around prejudice- particularly racial prejudice. “Communication [around the reason for the search] is the most important… Otherwise people will think it’s due to stereotyping.” Poor stop and search practice comes at a cost. Young people spoke of losing trust and confidence in the police,“You need to be able to turn to the police when you need help. If stop and search is done badly then the respect won’t be there and you will feel less able to turn to them.” At the extreme end some even spoke of fearing the police.

The young people we worked with spent time collaborating with junior Metropolitan Police Officers to plan how stop and search could be improved. Improving communication and transparency around stop and search were central to their recommendations,

“It should be a two-way dialogue. We’re both adults…if they have a good reason I would like to hear it.”

“One day I could fit the description, for example a black woman in blue. But tell me that.”

The full set of recommendations can be read in our report.

With HMIC pointing to a lack of training and supervision as underlying causes [4], it is essential that more attention is paid to developing junior police officers. We would welcome approaches such as ours, which bring young people and the police together in a collaborative and frank way. We believe these can be a powerful way of shifting opinions and behaviour – within both police and young people.

With stop and search rarely staying out of the headlines for long, Theresa May’s announcement for a national review into the procedure has come at a welcome time.


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