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Police panels set up to scrutinise stop and search ‘lack diversity’

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

Some police panels set up to scrutinise stop and search incidents contain few or no members from minority ethnic backgrounds, according to data obtained by the Observer.

Community scrutiny panels are supposed to have “sufficient” representation of marginalised groups and individuals most affected by stop and search, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to guidance from the College of Policing.

But in Staffordshire only one of the 86 people who sit on the 10 independent police scrutiny panels across the force’s Neighbourhood Policing Teams is from a minority ethnic background, according to freedom of Information request responses.

All 12 members of Dyfed-Powys Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Quality Assurance panel are white. Similarly, there are no black people on Lancashire constabulary’s eight-member countywide community stop and search scrutiny panel.

Just over half of all police forces responded to the request for information, suggesting that more forces may have a similar problem. However, of the 22 forces able to provide figures, the majority of panels had fair levels of representation, with nine having at least half of their members identifying as non-white.

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales, according to the most recent figures. Campaigners warn that police legitimacy is being undermined in areas without a representative community panel challenging contentious encounters

“Having a diverse panel, which can bring a variety of life experiences into the scrutiny role, is a crucial part of building legitimacy and holding the police to account,” said Nina Champion, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 160 organisations. “There is a need for an overarching body which could be a practical support to those local community scrutiny panels to ensure consistency and that panels are receiving the data they need and that they are reflective of the communities impacted by stop and search.”

The comments come after a report earlier this year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said stop and search was disproportionately used on certain ethnic groups without apparent evidence as to why. Barely one in 10 stops were based on intelligence, most relying on officers’ suspicions.

Related: ‘I was 10 when it first happened’: Jermaine Jenas on why stop-and-search is failing black children

As well as looking at receipts and the grounds for a stop, panel members can perform a number of other scrutiny roles, including reviewing body worn video footage.

The scrutiny panels are supposed to act as a check on poor practice but the lack of ethnic diversity in some of them is not the only problem. A report published by the CJA in 2019 raised questions about the independence of the panels. Some were not chaired by a member of the public, but instead by representatives from the police or the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Katrina Ffrench, 36, who was chair of the Islington Stop and Search Community Monitoring Group between 2015 and 2018, said: “We would ask officers for information and there was rarely progress on what we raised. For the officers, it was more of a tick boxing exercise. Sadly, things have got worse or have at best stayed stagnant.”

Habib Kadiri, research and policy manager at StopWatch, added: “The final executive decision – of sacking an officer, keeping them on the payroll or putting them through the criminal justice system for their behaviours – lies with the police. Therefore, the will of the police to address the concerns flagged must also exist.”

A Staffordshire Commissioner’s Office spokesperson said it is committed to ensuring its scrutiny panels more accurately reflect the diversity of their communities, adding that the pandemic has affected recruitment efforts.

A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner said it is attempting to raise the diversity of its Quality Assurance panel.

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