Police tape
Photograph: Ray Forster

Local youth-led police monitoring group Hackney Account today released a new report in the hope of shifting the dial on the debate around stop and search policy.

Account, which has been praised by councillors in the past for the quality and detail of its research, has documented issues around trust, trauma and accountability in local policing, with a number of specific recommendations for local and regional police, as well as the Town Hall.

The report, titled Policing in Hackney: Challenges from Youth in 2020, shows that handcuff usage in Hackney increased by 158 per cent in the last three years, with the borough’s young Black men six times more likely than their white peers to be stopped and searched.

According to Account, Black people are also four times more likely to have force used against them, with stops and searches carried out on young Black men having a much lower ‘hit rate’ than for white people.

Between August 2019 and July of this year, 14 per cent of searches for Black males aged 15-19 had a ‘positive outcome’, when compared to 22 per cent borough-wide.

Campaigns manager Emmanuel Onapa said: “The project was created to give power to those marginalised by the system.

“Our key political demand is to give our communities safe spaces to build and heal from years of traumatic treatment at the hands of state institutions. The current times, whether in the pandemic or the protests, are quickly becoming a defining time for global politics around equality.

“It is crucial that leaders in our society address grievances and, more importantly, the ideas coming from young people in these times. Young people cannot be seen as second-class citizens anymore when it comes to policing.

“They need to be at the table, with a role to play in making decisions that affect their lives. This is crucial not just for the politics of race relations and policing, but for the future of our democracy itself.”

Account spoke out back in June when it presented its findings to the council’s Living in Hackney scrutiny commission, which show that many young people it has spoken to believe that they were singled out because of their race for “disproportionate or excessive treatment”.

The group’s research also shows that many young Black men believed they were stereotyped as gang members by police from a young age, which could have a “traumatic impact on their sense of identity”.

Account have highlighted through their work the feelings of powerlessness, exclusion and humiliation brought on by the use of handcuffs, a lack of trust in the police amongst young people, with many saying they would not call the Met to help them, and the lasting impact of the death of Rashan Charles following contact with a police officer in 2017, with the accompanying perception that the police “got away with it”.

The monitoring group has now made a number of recommendations for local police, including improvements in the use of body-worn cameras, for Barnett’s force to sign up to the Home Office Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme, and for handcuff usage and its impact on community relations to be independently evaluated.

Account also made a number of specific asks of Hackney Council and the Met more generally, including council-run mental health support for victims of police misconduct, and a “meaningful public apology” from police for past injusticies, with cases to be reopened where appropriate.

The group in particular points to its findings on ‘positive outcomes’ in stops and searches locally as significant in response to claims made by the Metropolitan Police that race disproportionality in the policy can be explained by higher perpetrator and offending rates among Black people.

Account argue that if this were the case, positive outcomes, whereby an officer finds a prohibited item during a search, should remain equal across all ethnicities.

However, according to the group’s findings for the past 12 months, 10,831 searches in Hackney led to 2,392 positive outcomes, showing a ‘hit rate’ of roughly 22.1 per cent, with the outcome rate dropping to 17.6 per cent among Black males aged 15-24, when compared to a positive outcome rate of 21.9 per cent for young white men of the same category.

For the 15-19 age group among Black males, the positive outcome rate is 14.3 per cent, in comparison to 18 per cent for young white men of the same age category.

For drug searches, 17 per cent of those carried out on Black males aged 15-19 led to a positive outcome, in comparison to a 22.9 per cent rate for young white men of the same age.

Account’s head of research David Smith: “Research is important to everything that we do at Account. People don’t expect young people to be armed with their own evidence. Research gives us the ability to go out and seek a deeper meaning to the things that get presented to us.

“We don’t have to accept the story presented to us in the media, by the government, or by other institutions. Our findings shone a light on a series of issues facing young people.

“We learned that many young people would not call on police to help them when they needed it. We saw a deep disconnect in trust. A big part of this seemed to come from the fear of criminalisation among young Black men specifically. Stereotyped as gang members or criminals, they felt they couldn’t turn to police for help.

“We heard countless accounts of wrongful stop and search and accounts of excessive uses of force. We heard about the trauma and the pain this caused. We saw first-hand the effect this was having on widening the gap between the police and the community.

“We want our research to raise awareness of these issues – not just in the media and politics – but also in our own community. Too many young people we work with grow up blaming themselves for the injustices they face. They internalise the negativity that is all around them and turn that violence on themselves.

“We want young people to be able to grow up to be bigger and better than the stereotypes our institutions put on them. We want to see them stand tall, walk with confidence, lesser than no one.”

You can read the full report here.