Police were grilled this week by both councillors and youth-led social action project Hackney Account over stop and search policy in the borough.
The meeting followed calls from Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville and community safety lead Cllr Susan Fajana-Thomas to tackle the disproportionate treatment of Black and minority ethnic people.
Councillors on the Living in Hackney scrutiny commission pressed senior representatives of the Metropolitan Police for answers on precisely how a stop and search comes to be enacted, while Account members voiced a lack of faith in the force’s complaints process.
Commission chair Cllr Sharon Patrick stressed at the meeting that the council must “put its money where its mouth is” and give concrete support to people making complaints over treatment by the police, with the Met’s Cmdr Catherine Roper pledging to work to make the system more accessible.
Cllr Patrick said: “I think we have an important role as a scrutiny committee in the London Borough of Hackney to look at these issues. Trust and confidence in the police is going down amongst our community, and there has been a significant dip since 2017 with the death of Rashan Charles.
“We are here to represent the community and take on board their views as their elected representatives. We also need to try and work with the police who are there to protect everybody, though some members of our community don’t feel they are being protected.
“We keep hearing it’s intelligence-led policing, and no-one has told me in any of the reports I’ve read what intelligence-led policing is. What we really want to know is what the bobby on the beat, what he or she sees, or what happens, to make them stop somebody.
“The stats show that disproportionately, Black and ethnic minority people get stopped and searched, and that is what we are all concerned about.”
The commission’s meeting came in the wake of an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report making 11 recommendations for police on how to improve the use of stop and search and ensure Black men do not continue to be disproportionately targeted, as well as research by Account highlighting a plunge in trust in the forces in the area.
Black people in Hackney are three and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, rising to around nine times more likely when Section 60 powers are in force.
Account has also pointed to police data showing handcuff usage spiking by over 150 per cent in the past three years, with data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime illustrating a plunge in confidence that the police would treat everyone fairly regardless of who they are from 80 per cent agreement in 2017 to 48 per cent in 2020.
Responding to councillor quizzing on stop and search, Hackney police officers, who are currently conducting an internal deep dive review into every stop and search they conduct, laid out the reasonable grounds on which such an encounter between police and public might be based.
According to Hackney MPS, as well as being based on information received or descriptions, those grounds can be formed from environmental factors, such as “dimly lit stairwells, hidden away from public view, areas known for specific types of offending”, or evidence within the immediate vicinity of a stopped person such as drug paraphernalia on the floor.
A person’s behaviour or clothing will also factor, including if they are “sweaty, runs from the police, is nervous, fidgety, constantly touches areas of their person giving off unconscious signs they have concealed something”.
Clothing which could incur police suspicion, according to Hackney police’s submission, would be any clothing “inconsistent with weather conditions, gang colours, bandanas, et cetera”.
However, when challenged on whether the wearing of a bandanna could really form a reasonable ground for a stop and search by No Place for Hate champion Cllr Sade Etti, acting borough commander Mike Hamer urged councillors not to place too much significance on it, saying that such a reason was “very, very seldom” and did not represent “business as usual” in Hackney.
Cllr Ian Rathbone said: “[Cllr Patrick] asked what the criteria was for stop and search. Mike Hamer said that he couldn’t really give us any criteria, but he was very clear about [bandanas], we won’t be doing that. How is it that bandanas came to be decided upon, but now they’re decided not to be an issue?
“The police need to be more open about what their criteria is. Otherwise we are in the dark. We still don’t really know how it is that somebody gets stopped and searched. That is one of the cruxes of all of this. Why is somebody stopped, what is the criteria that is used, and why are handcuffs used?
“There must be some form of understanding, if not training, going on in this regard. Otherwise you just have individual police officers deciding whatever they like, and I can’t believe that is the situation.”
Hamer underlined to those listening, saying he “could not get this across too strongly”, that all reasonable grounds to stop and search either an individual or group are “held personally” by individual officers, based on what they see or hear, what a member of the public has told them, or in response to “wider tasking”.
The acting police chief made clear that officers are tasked with what an issue is in an area through the “victim/offender location time profile”, or in response to specific descriptions in an emergency call, or if an officer “sees something that is not right, and their professional judgment leads them on to a position where they have an engagement with that member of the public”.
Councillors were told that community scrutiny groups then scrutinise unredacted body worn video of encounters, which according to police figures are now worn in 93 per cent of encounters, and are also able to study the reasonable grounds for searches and provide feedback on what they find.
Hamer added: “It’s not lost on us that we police with the consent of the community. We need to work with them. I think we do, largely and very effectively, but there is a lot more we can do.
“We have finite resources, and we want to put our officers in the areas where the crime is happening at the times it is happening, and with as much information as possible.
“Training is really important, for our new officers who arrive wihtout necessarily understanding Hackney, but training equally needs to be refreshed amongst all of our staff, as it is our experienced officers who become the role models for our younger staff, so they should be leading and demonstrating by example.
“One of the objectives of the review of stop and search and of body worn video is to recycle that learning, that encounter in the street, and understand how we work on some of our softer communicative skills with the person who is being stopped and searched at the time.”
The officers at the meeting faced calls for greater transparency from both councillors and campaigners, with Cllr Penny Wrout asking for the release of figures showing how many officers are disciplined for not using body worn video or misusing handcuffs, arguing that such a release would help build trust.
Meanwhile, Account members called upon the police to make a commitment to end disproportionality in ‘positive outcome’ rates for searches, with the group’s research showing that 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.
Account member Great Okosun said: “People do not go to the IOPC because they know that reporting to them is not going to lead anywhere. They do not have any trust in the IOPC or the police. The majority of young people, especially young Black men, have very little trust in the police to help them in any capacity.
“On multiple occasions we have been overlooked by the police on what we have said and dealt with disrespectfully. How do you guys expect to fix any of your problems when you consistently push responsibility from higher-ups onto lower police officers? It seems like you choose not to take any responsibility for the actions that are being made. If the king of a nation is a tyrant, and his knights are tyrants as well, is that not the king’s fault?”
Regardless of how the police feel, the facts speak otherwise. If I can use a statement that on a multitude of occasions, facts don’t care about your feelings. The police use racial profiling, and most often when you are using stop and search. Regardless of how you feel, those are the facts of the matter, and institutional racism is a major problem in the police.”
The IOPC’s regional director Sal Naseem accepted that trust and confidence in the system is “a barrier that we have to overcome as an organisation,” while urging the public to make their voices heard through the existing structures, adding: “If you’re unhappy with an interaction that you’ve had with the police service, get your voice heard in the system that is there. It might not be a perfect system, but it is the system that is in place.”
Also present at the meeting was Cmdr Catherine Roper, the Met’s head for crime prevention, inclusion and engagement, who pointed to local training based in the “lived experience and cultural history of Hackney” in promising a tangible shift in the way police are to engage more “empathetically” with locals going forward.
According to police, as part of the local deep dive into stop and search, community reference groups which will aim to be “completely representative” of Hackney with young people in particular represented, would help support its review.
Roper said: “This does not mean every single stop and search will be as we wish it to be. I know words are cheap, but I can also promise that we are going to be held to account through an action plan, through the IOPC’s recommendations.
“Some of this will take a little while to become activity, but there is an absolute commitment from the Met. If we don’t do it, there will be an awful lot of people watching to highlight if we don’t.”
Addressing police at the meeting, Account’s Yolanda Lear said: “You can’t expect a change to come forth if you can’t even see that there is a problem. We have had this countless times. You guys are not listening to the young people, as we have said this numerous times, and yet countless occasions you have ignored that.
“We have come to you with statistics from your own bodies and shown you that there is a problem, and still no-one can put their hands up and say there is a problem.
“You are passing on that responsibility to the everyday officers and saying it is down to them on saying that it is down to them whether their stop and search is legitimate. At some point, those who are in power have to take responsibility.”