Black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched in Northamptonshire, report finds

Superintendent Dennis Murray said the force needed to make a cultural change.
Superintendent Dennis Murray said the force needed to make a cultural change.

Northamptonshire Police is disproportionally stopping and searching black people and admits a ‘cultural change’ needs to happen in the force.

A report into the county’s stop and search Reasonable Grounds Panel (RGP) has found that despite the numbers of stop and searches dramatically reducing in the county between October 2014 and March 2017, that black people were nine times more likely to be stopped than white people.

It also found that in 2016/17 the ten most active officers were doing more than a third of the stop searches and the majority of this group were in the proactive teams policing Northampton central.

At a public launch of the report last night Superintendent Dennis Murray said Northamptonshire Police fully accepted the findings of the report.

He said: “We haven’t got it right. I don’t fully understand what is driving that dis-proportionality. There is no doubt about it that cultural change needs to happen. We have the appetite to change it.”

At the meeting at the Doddridge Centre in Northampton, members of the town’s black community spoke angrily about the dis-proportionality findings.

One woman said while more black people were being stopped the police would not gain trust in the community. A University of Northampton student said more training needed to be given to young people so they knew their rights around stop and search.

She said: “It is more of an ‘us and them’ environment and that is not right.”

Jennny Campbell, from Inspiration Radio, said: “Time and time again we have seen the statistics and the number continues to be high in terms of no further action. You have stopped and searched, innocent, law-abiding people.”

Report co-author Michael Shiner from the London School of Economics, said disproportionality was a national issue that was worsening.

He said: “Since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry we have seen how even despite explicit attempts to reduce disproportionality it has increased.

“This is not about officer beliefs or orientation. It is about what team you are part of. The proactive team concentrates on certain areas, particularly on poor inner city areas. Part of the problem here is that if you have police prioritising particular kinds of community and there is a criminalising effect.

“The key part of this is not about individual officer decision making, it is systemic.”

He added: “Lack of white empathy for black people is the root of disproportionality.”

Stop and search has always been a controversial practice and was a catalyst in the 1980s Brixton Riots and also the 2011 riots. An inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found over a quarter of police stop searches were not lawful.

In 2014 Northamptonshire Police set up its RGPwhich uses random members of the public to assess whether the grounds given by police officers to stop someone on the street where legal.

The report, which was commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative, and supported by Northamptonshire police, found that once the RGP was set up the number of stop searches fell significantly, that more stop searches were found to be lawful and there was a higher arrest rate.

During the report evaluation period five officers were suspended from using their stop search powers. There was general support for the panel from officers however some resistance from a small cohort.

In 2010/11 black people were twice as likely to be stopped and searched than white people but that has risen to nine times in 2016/17.

Chief executive of the Northamptonshire Race Equality Council, Anjona Roy, said Northamptonshire Police should use the expertise of her organisation.

She said: “Disproportionality is the big issue with stop and search. Northamptonshire Police needs to agree as to whether they care and why they care and demonstrate what they are going to do about this.

“There is a way you can do it. Things like adopting a target to reduce disproportionality. We know this is about the proactive teams and that about 50 percent of stop searches happen in one square mile of Northampton town centre.

“There clearly needs to be a change of cultural change. Part of that is being open and disproportionality is an issue and you can’t say that it isn’t. This is a solvable issue. We know things are going wrong so why don’t we?”

The report has made a number of recommendations to Northamptonshire police including reaffirming Chief Constable Nick Adderley’s commitment to the Reasonable Grounds Panel.

Mr Murray said the force would now realign stop and search to make sure its use was in keeping with the priorities listed in the county’s police and crime plan.