Community Policing Inspector for South Holland Jim Tyner writes about police stop and search powers in his latest column.
Last month the government announced a new code of conduct on police use of stop and search powers.
Stop and Search is an important tool in tackling crime, but if you look at the history of riots over the past decades, the root cause is often down to a mistrust between the police and their community. A symptom of this mistrust has often been the misuse or abuse of stop and search powers.
Let me clarify: we can’t stop and search anyone we feel like. A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying:
• illegal drugs
• a weapon
• stolen property
• something which could be used to commit a crime, eg a crowbar
There is another type of search, known as a ‘Section 60’ search, which has to be authorised by a senior officer. This can happen if it is suspected that serious violence could take place in a specific area. When an authorisation for this type of search is given, everyone in the area can be searched. This is designed to tackle gang crime. I have never known this type of search be used in South Holland.
Instead, I will concentrate on the first type of search. The one that mentions ‘reasonable grounds’. Books have been written, court cases argued and careers lost over what constitutes ‘reasonable’. I recently wrote about a stop and search I attempted to carry out on Billy Burglar. The ‘reasonable’ grounds for that search were not because I knew Billy’s offending history: previous offending alone cannot be used as grounds. It was that, combined with his suspicious actions. Additionally, a search can never be based purely on skin colour or nationality.
A measure of the correct use of stop and search is the proportion of searches compared to the crimes in the area. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) recently carried out a review. On initial reading it looked like South Holland didn’t come out too well. There were considerably more stop/searches in Spalding town centre than anywhere else in the force, including Lincoln and Boston. For example, in the last quarter of 2013/2014 there were 182 stop/searches in Spalding compared to 84 in Boston.
This set alarm bells going. Were we misusing our powers? Was there wholesale abuse or a single ‘Hot Fuzz’ type super-cop? Were we targeting people unfairly because of nationality or background?
Actually the reasons were much more mundane than that.
There was one particular individual, Mantas Kizevicius, who was believed to be involved in a lot of crime in the town centre at that time. He was the subject of several stop/searches. One of the stop/searches led to his arrest and imprisonment and eventual deportation.
During the period reviewed we also ran an operation targeting drug use and anti-social behaviour around the Sheepmarket toilets. This was as a result of numerous complaints from the public. This inevitably produced a high number of stop/searches in that area.
During the same period there were a growing number of calls and reports to police concerning anti-social behaviour by persons sleeping rough and drinking in and around the Castle Sports Swimming Pool. This area is also within the Designated Public Places Order (DPPO). As a result, my officers were tasked to pay additional attention to the area; patrolling on foot around the perimeter of the building; stopping and checking persons gathering/loitering; and using their powers to seize alcohol and their dispersal powers, where appropriate, and to deal with any offences firmly. In 26 instances officers patrolling in this area considered that they had sufficient grounds to also conduct a search following a stop.
I believe that the level of stop/searches was not excessive but was due to operations I put in place to counter anti-social behaviour, low-level drug dealing and street drinking. In other words, we were dealing with what our communities tell us they want us to deal with.
The review also identified that a significant proportion of the searches were carried out on men from Central and Eastern Europe. Given the nature of the operations to tackle anti-social behaviour linked to street drinking, this should not be surprising. Remember, I said earlier that nationality alone is never grounds for searching someone. Every stop/search is reviewed by the officer’s supervisor who ensures that the grounds for the search are proportionate and lawful. Incidentally, this puts paid to the myth that we are too scared to deal with members of our migrant communities.
Let me share two examples with you. I currently have an operation in place to tackle burglaries in Spalding. Over the past few weeks two men have been arrested for burglaries in separate circumstances.
On August 8 a man was stop/checked in Spalding. Based on recent intelligence and the time of night, the officer felt they had the grounds to carry out a stop/search. In his possession were electrical items, subsequently identified as stolen from a burglary in Pinchbeck Road, Spalding. The man was arrested and subsequently convicted of burglary.
On August 26 an officer carried out a search of a man, based on his erratic behaviour and demeanour, under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In his pocket was a letter not in his name, and enquiries uncovered a burglary. The man was arrested and is currently on police bail.
Stop and search remains an important weapon in our fight against crime. I will continue to monitor to ensure it is being used appropriately. It should be a measure for public good not for community mistrust.