Working with our communities to review Stop & Search
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Essex Police celebrates that local people have been advising the force on Stop & Search in specially set up Body Worn Video Panels
Officers asked communities how they could improve Stop & Search experiences so they are as professional as possible.
As a result of working with the community, the force continues to see an improvement in the quality of and in the rates of disparity of Stop & Searches.
Over the last year, Essex Police has cut the disparity in the use of Stop & Search to almost half the national rate thanks to the continued internal and external education and review.
If you are Black, Asian or minority ethnic, you are now less likely to be stopped by Essex Police than in other parts England and Wales.
Of the 39 forces in the country, for which data is publicly available, Essex Police has the lowest ratio for stopping and searching Black individuals in comparison to white individuals – but we are not complacent and know there is still a lot of work to be done.
Our continued learnings from this Panel – and other members of the community – means that our Stop & Searches continue to improve in terms of professionalism and respect.
The Independent Chair of the body worn video Review Panel, Neil Woodbridge, said: “The real testimony to Essex Police’s transparency and public service is when we have seen things we are not happy about, they have responded and taken action.”
Superintendent Darren Deex says: “We value our communities. That’s why we’re listening to people's views and improving the way we do Stop & Search.”
We continue to learn from our mistakes. That means we can offer the best service to the people in our county who come into contact with us – whether that’s as a victim of crime, the subject of a stop search, or someone who might want to join us as an officer.
In the past year, we’ve continued to prioritise our communication from the public. This included the creation of the Victim Feedback Panel last May, which allows us to learn from both good and bad experiences of those we work to protect and serve.
Over this summer our communication with the public will be even more crucial, with more officers than last year on the streets of Essex on patrol.
In July 2021, we also launched our first Stop and Search Body Worn Video (BWV) Review Panel. Every eight weeks, members of the public meet to review officers’ recent recordings of stop and search incidents from across the county.
The videos always start from the moment officers turn on their cameras - usually on the way to the scene of any reported incident - and give members of the panel the chance to view the incident unfold.
The members of the panel review a wide variety of clips and check them against the Essex Police policy to ensure that best practice has been followed. The clips are from different locations and show stop searches conducted by officers with varying lengths of service and are chosen at random by the independent Chair.
After reviewing each video, the panel are able to discuss the videos together and ask any questions to the police officer present. If there are clear breaches of policy, or any other concerns about conduct of officers, this is relayed to senior officers within the relevant team and appropriate action is taken. We can then facilitate the senior officer to return to the next BWV Review Panel to give a face-to-face update to the panel members.
The Independent Chair of the Review Panel, Neil Woodbridge, said of the experience:
“As the Independent Chair of an Advisory Group I am very proud of the community representation we have assembled to look at the very sensitive subject of stop and search. “We have seen some excellent practice from officers throughout the county; but the real testimony to Essex Police’s transparency and public service is when we have seen things we are not happy about, they have responded and taken action. “Not least of which is to talk about the learning and how it will influence their practice going forwards. If you’re someone who thinks their community needs to see this material too and understand how you can be part of the solution as a critical friend, then get in touch.”
Opening up conversations
Superintendent Darren Deex, who set up the Review Panel and is often the police officer answering questions during the sessions, said:
“The Review Panel is the first step to opening up a conversation with the public about difficult issues – like stop and search, use of force, and disproportionality in the use of our policing powers within ethnic minority communities. “At Essex Police, it’s simple: we’re here to protect people and catch criminals, but we have to understand that some members of the community may not feel safe in the presence of our officers. That might be because of something they’ve read about policing, or stories they’ve heard from friends, families or loved ones. We value our communities and look to minimise this distress where we can. “In Essex, like in most of the country, you’re proportionately more likely to be subjected to a stop search if you’re from an ethnic minority community and we’re working hard, with partners, to understand the context behind this. However, the disproportionality in our county is continuing to decrease, which can only be a good thing. “We know that being searched can be an unpleasant, embarrassing experience if you haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, our officers do get it wrong, but searches are carried out based on public intelligence or the available information we have at that time. Often, there will have been a call about a weapon, or someone may match the description of a suspect, and our officers will need to act quickly to detain someone. “The members of our panel are of different ages, backgrounds, gender identities and ethnicities and they’re not afraid to hold us to account. If you’re concerned about the practice of stop searches and would like to have an input, then I would urge you to join the panel.”
Representing our communities
The diversity of our workforce is also continuing to grow, with 4.1% of our officers, staff and volunteers identifying as being from an ethnic minority community.
We know the more we can represent our diverse county, the better chance we have of developing a police force that works for the many different villages, towns and cities in Essex.
Our officers work hard every day to protect and serve the people of our county, but we need to understand if we’re not getting it right.