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PCC celebrates national report singling out Bedfordshire Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel for best practice nationwide
Bedfordshire’s PCC, Kathryn Holloway, has pointed to the best practice in the country that the county’s Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel demonstrates, at a time when the issue is a controversial topic in terms of knife crime control, after the Panel’s work was praised in a national report.

The annual report of the Criminal Justice Alliance singled out the Bedfordshire Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel for the way it makes sure the Force is carrying out Stop and Search lawfully and in the most professional way possible. The Panel is led by Montell Neufville, Kimberley Lamb and Haleema Ali, experienced youth and victim support workers; with Panel members drawn from diverse backgrounds across the county, at events organised by Bedfordshire Police's Community Cohesion Team and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The Panel examines randomly dip-sampled footage from the body worn videos of Bedfordshire’s officers as they carry out Stop and Search and provides feedback directly to the officers and their line managers.

“This is a hugely important time for the way we do Stop and Search Scrutiny in Bedfordshire to be identified as among the very best practice in the country. We’ve seen the Government urge police to use their Stop and Search powers in order to try to drive down knife crime and forces in other areas of the country, such as West Midlands, have been using the enhanced version of Stop and Search powers (Section 60) at specific times and in hotspot areas to search everyone at a particular location, rather than requiring an officer to have an actual reason to suspect that the person who is to be searched is carrying a weapon - as is usually the case. It must be recognised that this, inevitably, can cause potential tensions in communities,” said PCC Holloway.

“The scrutiny offered by the Panel here in Bedfordshire, with members seeing and hearing for themselves exactly how and why an officer is searching a member of the public, is absolutely vital in my view to give members of our communities - and especially diverse communities who may not have had positive experiences of historic encounters with police - a real confidence that these powers are being used appropriately and that they are producing results.

“Equally, Bedfordshire Police officers understand that the criticism is constructive: the Panels aren't about 'police bashing’ but the public making genuine suggestions as to how and why a particular search might have been done differently and also sending back praise when an officer delivers the best possible encounter, in what are, let’s face it, potentially difficult and embarrassing circumstances for the person being searched.

“If we don’t want to create another generation which is disillusioned and distanced from police, destroying confidence and bonds of trust with communities that have been hard won, we have to get this right. Officers also have to have the confidence and backing to conduct Stop and Search wherever and whenever they believe an individual may be carrying a knife. Bedfordshire is said to be 11th in the country for knife crime, which indicates the level of knife carrying, and I truly believe all of us - Bedfordshire Police, me and my office team and, especially, the communities of Bedfordshire - don’t want to see a single child die, if a knife could be taken safely off the streets,” said Commissioner Holloway.

The Criminal Justice Alliance is a coalition of 150 organisations who are committed to improving the Criminal Justice system from policing to prisons and probation. Members include charities, service providers for offenders, research institutions and staff associations.

They singled out the Bedfordshire Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel for outstanding performance in the following areas:-

* Use of a red, amber, green grading for feedback to officers, delivered in face to face meetings with a Sergeant, concerning the Panel’s response to watching dip-sampled body worn videos of Stop and Search conducted by them

* The Panel’s explanation of its scrutiny - what it looks at, why and what feedback is given - via radio stations, sports centres, schools and colleges across Bedfordshire - to raise awareness of its work and encourage the widest possible representation among panel members

* The Panel’s training package for would-be members including the history of Stop and Search, case studies of those who have experienced such searches and reforms relating to the process

* Training of Bedfordshire Police officers, developed by the Panel Chair, including in unconscious bias and procedural justice

* Holding Panel meetings in various locations around the county to make them as accessible as possible to the public, including in youth centres

* Working closely with the Bedfordshire Police Community Cohesion Team who liaise with the Chair and Panel and oversee feedback to the Force

Bedfordshire Stop and Search Panel Chair, Montell Neufville, reacted to the national report saying: "We are aware that Bedfordshire Police officers listen and take the views of the panel seriously. This has led to great improvements, reduced community tensions and a better relationship in the fight against crime - which has been recognised in the CJA report.

"Stop and Search can be seen as a controversial power, getting it right is important and it's also important that there is confidence from the community that officers are using their powers fairly and appropriately. It is not down to politicians, the media or armchair critics to make a judgement on who a police officer should Stop and Search, nor should undue pressure be put onto officers to search people when it is not appropriate. There is no disagreement that a range of methods and powers should be used to take knives off our streets. However, Stop and Search can be used for a whole range of offences and this is perfectly legitimate too.

"We go to great lengths to ensure that the panel members appraising and feeding back to officers represent the diverse communities from our county, advising when they do well in addition to where there is room for improvement. We're finding that more and more appraisals of body warn videos are 'green', conducted exactly how they should be. It's clear to me that officers in Bedfordshire are becoming one of the leading forces in using the procedural justice approach when conducting their work."

Sgt Steve Mosley, who leads Bedfordshire Police’s Community Cohesion Team and personally gives feedback on the Panel’s findings face to face to individual officers, recognises the value of the Panel in building confidence in policing in communities and ensuring it is carried out in the most appropriate way.

He said: "In Bedfordshire we are fortunate to have strong positive relationships with our local communities and our Stop Search Scrutiny Panel is an example of the benefits that relationships like this have on the performance of our police force.

"Feedback delivered is a two-way dialogue between the community and officer involved and goes some way to assisting officers to understand the impact of policing activity within local communities. I can personally attest to the vast improvement I have seen in the quality of stops searches over recent years and there is no doubt that the work of the panel has vastly contributed to this effort."

“What's really important is that the feedback from the Panel is taken extremely seriously at Bedfordshire Police. I usually attend Panels and I've raised occasional issues that I’ve been unhappy with myself directly with the Chief Constable and his team. Equally I’ve made sure that those who are praised for exceptionally professional behaviour receive that positive feedback. I’m also delighted to say that, while the Panel members are robust in their scrutiny, it's rare for a video to be given the red rating which would immediately lead to investigation by line managers,” said the Commissioner.

Officers performing Stop and Search must follow a process known as GO WISELY - identifying the grounds for the search and the object they are looking for; they must supply a warrant card to identify themselves as a police officer if not in uniform; they must say who they are and which station they come from; they must offer an electronic copy of the record of the search and state the legal powers under which the search is being carried out and must say that the subject is being detained for the purpose of a Stop and Search.