As part of my work with Urban Lawyers, I saw an opportunity to work closely with the British Transport Police (BTP) to address some of the concerns raised about public confidence around stop and search. Stop and search is a tool that has raised a lot of concerns due to the perception that the police are not using their powers proportionately.
On 21st April, Urban Lawyers and BTP held an event with SE1 United on the topic of stop and search. Present from the BTP were Inspector Mahmood and Sergeant Simon Fuller. They were also assisted by Lydia Massey from the BTP stop and search team and Damian Roberts of BTP’s Independent Advisory Group.
Once the introductions were out of the way, Inspector Mahmood and Sergeant Fuller began the presentation with the question of what is stop and search? Both highlighted that a police officer can stop and search you if they have a genuine suspicion in their mind that items that could be used to commit crime or are evidence of an offence will be found on you. The police officer’s suspicion must seem ‘reasonable’ to an independent observer. The word reasonable started an early debate to the event. Some members of SE1 United made it clear that what is reasonable suspicion to a police officer may not be reasonable to the person who is being searched. The officers faced a series of tough questions around the community’s concern on whether stop and search is based on assumption rather than a reasonable suspicion. They were also asked whether you could refuse to submit to a stop and search if you did not view the police officer’s reason for stopping you as reasonable. It was clear from the audience that there was much disagreement about the term ‘reasonable suspicion’. However, it was generally understood that any reasonable suspicion should be based on the objective view of the independent observer rather than the subjective view of the individual. An important point was raised as to why police officers are not wearing video cameras. One of the SE1 United members argued that if police officers wear the cameras, it would cause them to think more carefully before conducting a stop and search. Inspector Mahmood responded by supporting this and commented that body video cameras were currently being used by BTP at key locations such as the London Hubs and that the plan is to eventually roll this out to all officers in the future.
With the event now in full Q&A mode, Inspector Mahmood and Sergeant Fuller showed SE1 United a video of how they conduct stop and search and followed on with eight interactive scenarios based on real life examples. The scenarios challenged SE1 United members to think about what they would do if they were in the position of the police officer. There was a vote at the end of every scenario followed by what action was taken. This part of the event was received positively as it highlighted examples of where a stop and search was necessary and examples of where it was not. The results of the scenarios were followed by a robust and honest exchange of views by both sides. Some SE1 United members even shared their own personal experiences to highlight the reality of stop and search and the impact it had on them.
To round things off, the event touched on the “best use of the stop and search scheme” which focused on BTP making sure their officers got their searches proportionate to address the concerns raised by the public. It was also highlighted that police officers would be accountable to their supervisors to ensure that stop and search is being used correctly. In some cases, there would also be a Community Complaints Trigger which would be reviewed by an external member of the public such as the Independent Advisory Group. It was at this point that Damien Roberts took to the floor to explain his views on stop and search. He also stressed the importance of making your voice heard if you felt that a stop and search was not conducted correctly. He also raised the important point of establishing a dialogue between the police and young adults to break down the barriers of mistrust in the community. He also talked about how BTP experiences were positive on the whole when stop and searching individuals. This was mostly echoed by members of the audience.
The event concluded with a question for both Inspector Mahmood and Sergeant Fuller which was, what had they learnt from the event? Both acknowledged that events like this established good relations between the police and young adults and that they would be looking forward to continuing to build up a dialogue with young people. By the end of the event, some members of SE1 United shook hands with the officers considering many of them had negative experiences with the police regarding stop and search. SE1 United urged them to connect more with young people via social media and even come out to dinner with them in future. Information was also provided by Sergeant Fuller about how SE1 United members could get involved with BTP such as joining the Police Cadets or become Special Constables.
The event was the first step in building bridges with young adults and BTP. Urban Lawyers and BTP did not want this event to just be a one-off. There are plans to have follow-up events in the near future to foster closer relations between the police and young adults. For more information about upcoming events with BTP see @Urban_Lawyers or check out the website at www.urbanlawyers.co.uk
Useful links for British Transport Police: www.btp.police.uk @BTP
6 May 2015