March 2023: 'We've had so many watershed moments we should be swimming'
This month, we take a look at what the Casey Review says about stop and search, and why Rowley still refuses to say the i-word
March was another huge month for policing in the news – particularly for the UK’s biggest police force, the Met. Baroness Louise Casey’s review of culture and standards at the Met was published in full – as was new analysis of research conducted by the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, into police strip searching of children (The Guardian, 26 March). Wayne Couzens, who is already serving a whole-life order for the abduction, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021, was sentenced earlier this month to 19 months in prison for three counts of indecent exposure (these incidents took place before he killed Everard) (Sky News, 6 March).
It was also revealed by The Observer that police forces in England and Wales have been deleting misconduct investigation records from their websites: ‘An analysis of misconduct trials at 43 forces found the vast majority were either failing to publicise cases, despite a legal obligation to do so, or deleting misconduct cases from their websites after 28 days’. StopWatch spoke to Andrew Kersley, the journalist leading the investigation, about his findings. We said: ‘When it comes to police misconduct, it’s difficult to believe that the police are sincere about systemic change when they’re constantly trying to find ways to avoid admitting the extent of the problem and evade public scrutiny’ (The Observer, 25 March).
This month, StopWatch attended the ‘Officer W80’ hearing (formally R (Officer W80) v Director General of the Independent Office for Police Conduct and Others) at the Supreme Court. The case concerns the fatal shooting of unarmed 28-year-old Jermaine Baker by a Met officer back in 2015; specifically, the case is focused on the issue of which legal ‘test’ should be applied in police misconduct proceedings relating to the use of force. StopWatch, along with charity INQUEST, were ‘interveners’ in the case – meaning we were permitted to submit evidence in support of the adoption of a civil law test for police misconduct cases. For an explanation of the background of the case, a summary of the legal arguments, and why StopWatch opposes the introduction of a criminal law test, click through to the thread below.
StopWatch volunteers also attended a film screening and Q&A (hosted by the University of Westminster) of ‘Sus’ – a 2010 film adapted from the 1979 play by Barrie Keefe, set in a police station on the evening of the 1979 election, where a Black suspect is interrogated on suspicion of murder by two racist officers emboldened by Margaret Thatcher’s imminent victory.
We also headed up to Liverpool for an event by community theatre company 20 Stories High, who recently finished a tour of their new play ‘LOOPS’, about a young man’s experience of stop and search and police racism – and how this affects his relationships with friends, family, and his wider community. The event brought young people together to give them the space and the creative resources to reflect on the themes of the play, with a particular focus on self-care, activism, and creative expression.
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
The Casey Review on stop and search: ‘a racialised tool’
The Casey Review dominated the headlines since its publication last week. Originally commissioned by commissioner Mark Rowley’s predecessor, Cressida Dick, in the wake of the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer in March 2021, its objective was to examine culture and standards within the Met. The 363-page final report (a shorter interim report was published in October 2022) covers a wide range of topics: the impact of austerity on the Met, how the Met is run, police misconduct, the relationship between the Met and the general public – and, importantly, racism, misogyny, and homophobia. We’ve taken a look at what the report says specifically about stop and search.
Legitimacy and trust
Casey describes the use of stop and search by the Met as in need of ‘a fundamental reset’. She repeatedly refers to the over-policing of Black Londoners, which has led to ‘generational mistrust of the police’, contextualising the institutional racism of the present-day Met in the context of ‘a very long history linking British policing with mistreatment of, and prejudice against, Black and ethnic minority communities’.
Unsurprisingly, stop and search is described as one of the key factors in the breakdown of the relationship between the Met and those they police: ‘Stop and search is currently deployed by the Met as the cost of legitimacy, trust and, therefore, consent’.
Casey also highlights the lack of empathy and understanding on the part of the police in relation to the trauma and humiliation frequently experienced by those subject to stop and search. When questioned about specific incidents, the Met respond only in terms of lawfulness, ‘ignoring how such incidents are perceived, the impact on individuals, and the wider corrosive impact of trust in the police’. Despite officers ‘at every level’ being aware of the notion of ‘every contact leaves a trace’, the Met had not taken into account the ways in which traumatic or humiliating experiences of stop and search might impact that person’s faith in the police more generally, ‘including their willingness to report crimes, provide vital intelligence, and seek help if they or their families are in danger’.
Casey found no evidence that the Met had made any effort to specifically consider the impact of stop and search on the trust and confidence of Londoners in the police – ‘especially the young Black men’. Following analysis of the Met’s various official strategies and plans over the past couple of years to the present day, Casey condemns the Met’s engagement with the public on the issue of stop and search. ‘The [Met’s] belief is that it is for the public to understand the Met better, not for the Met to listen or understand public concerns regarding stop and search’.
The report is unequivocal about stop and search and its incontrovertibly racist deployment. ‘Enough evidence and analysis exists to confidently label stop and search as a racialised tool’. As many commentators have also pointed out in recent months, ‘the same themes emerge regularly in the many past inquiries and investigations into racism in the Met’. On stop and search, there is very little in this review that we didn’t already know – and Casey is keen to stress that the implications of this are not good for the Met: rather, it suggests that the recommendations of previous reports and reviews have been ignored. As one police officer interviewed for the report puts it, when it comes to racism, ‘We’ve had so many watershed moments we should be swimming’.
The Met say that they disproportionately target young Black men when it comes to stop and search because that demographic are also disproportionately the victims of ‘knife crime’, but Casey finds that the ‘reality of stop and search does not appear to reflect the policy intention’. She sets out several key facts on stop and search:
Around 70% to 80% of stop and searches lead to no further action
The greater the volume of stop and searches carried out, the greater the proportion of ‘no further action’ outcomes occur
The Misuse of Drugs Act is consistently the most used reason to stop and search someone in London, not offensive weapons
In 2019-20, just 12% of stop and searches in London led to an arrest
The most common reason for arrest is drugs, followed by theft, and thirdly, weapons
Around 15% of arrests from stop and search are due to the seizure of weapons
The Met was ranked 31 out of 44 forces for their average arrest rate as a result of stop and search
And while Casey does not go into the question of the efficacy of stop and search as a policing tactic in much depth, she does cite a 2019 research study conducted by Ben Bradford and Matteo Tiratelli that found little evidence that the use of stop and search has any impact on crime reduction (one of our volunteers recently wrote a blog post about a more recent study that came to a similar conclusion).
‘To date, the Met has been unable to explain clearly enough why [the use of stop and search] is justified on the scale it uses it, and in the manner and way it is carried out, particularly on Black Londoners. […] If the Met is unable to explain and justify its disproportionate use and impacts of these, then it needs a fundamental reset’, Casey concludes. But what does she actually suggest by way of concrete recommendations?
Casey calls for the establishment of a stop and search charter between the Met and Londoners, ‘with an agreed rationale’. The Met should also ‘provide an annual account of its use by area, and by team’, and compliance with the charter should be evaluated independently, ‘including the viewing of Body Worn Video footage’. ‘As a minimum,’ she recommends, ‘Met officers should be required to give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and a receipt confirming the details of the stop’.
The problem is that this minimum recommendation is already a legal requirement that police officers routinely overlook. As Casey acknowledges, ‘Stop and search is deeply embedded in the Met’s culture’. Without a drastic scaling back of the powers available to the police, and more serious consequences for misusing or abusing them, it seems unlikely that Casey’s stop and search charter will have an impact on the way the Met uses stop and search – especially given the way stop and search is specifically and consistently used as a racialised tool against London’s Black population in particular.
The reactions to the report within the Met and its senior leadership also suggest that this may be another case of plus ça change. For starters, Rowley is still stubbornly refusing to accept that one crucial word: institutional. Baroness Casey found clear evidence of institutional racism, institutional misogyny, and institutional homophobia in the Met – and was far from the first to do so. But even when directly confronted by Mina Smallman, the mother of two sisters whose dead bodies were photographed and shared on WhatsApp by two police officers (BBC Radio 4, 28 March); even when warned by Casey herself that he risked missing his moment to overhaul the force in his refusal to use the term (The Guardian, 25 March) – Rowley resists.
As Kuba Shand-Baptiste writes, for Britain’s leaders – the Met commissioner, the home secretary, politicians, other public organisations – to accept institutional racism ‘would mean having to condemn, destroy and rebuild the foundations of what makes them powerful in the first place’ (i News, 23 March).
Rowley’s plan to fix the Met by simply getting rid of ‘hundreds of toxic individuals’ – a phrase he has used on multiple occasions – would be immediately exposed as the futile effort that it is, should he acknowledge the irrefutable fact that racism is baked into the very structure of the force, rather than being a problem caused by a few bad apples who’ve managed to slip under the radar.
However, the acknowledgement of institutional racism by those in power wouldn’t be the end of the story (if ever accepted by Met’s leadership, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to us if it was disingenuously used as a way of diffusing blame and fuelling complacency within the force when it comes to racism – watch this space). We have to continue to think about how and why the Met (and the police more broadly) are institutionally racist, and in the context of stop and search – given that it’s used specifically by the police as a racialised tool – why the police are so desperate to hold on to (and if at all possible, expand) this power that so evidently fails to achieve its purported crime reduction and crime prevention aims.
The Metropolitan police: ‘one of the biggest safeguarding risks to Black children’
Back in our August 2022 newsletter, ‘State-sanctioned child abuse’, we wrote about the case of Child Q and police strip searches of children. This month, a week after the Casey Review was published, new analysis of the Children’s Commissioner’s report on child strip search revealed that Black children are 11 times more likely to be strip searched by police in England and Wales than their white peers (The Guardian, 26 March).
There were at least 2,847 recorded strip searches of children pre-arrest across England and Wales between 2018 and 2022 under stop and search powers. More than half of the children strip searched had no appropriate adult confirmed present, as is legally required. 38% of children strip searched were Black, despite Black children making up just 5.9% of the population – meaning that this demographic was six times over-represented in the total numbers.
But strip search is not the only way police forces have subjected children to violence and exploitation over the last couple of years (and decades). Home Office documents marked ‘official / sensitive’ seen by the Guardian showed that UK police reported hundreds of sexually exploited children to immigration enforcement (The Guardian, 5 March). ‘Between 2020 and 2022, UK police reported 2,546 victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, adult sexual exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery to immigration enforcement’.
Earlier this week, a former Met officer who was working as a ‘Safer Schools Officer’ at a London secondary school was jailed for five years for a number of child sex offences (BBC News, 28 March). The Casey Review also made mention of the ways in which the police are failing children – particularly Black children – and called for specific training to prevent adultification, ‘where police officers […] regard children, especially Black and ethnic minority children, as threats rather than children who need protection from harm’. Casey also describes ‘an unwillingness inside the Met to interrogate whether there are broader issues around race, desensitisation and systematic bias towards Black children’.
It’s not an exaggeration, then, to say that ‘the Metropolitan police itself presents an urgent safeguarding risk to children’, as artist, writer, and community activist Franklyn Addo has argued (The Guardian, 28 March). ‘To keep children safe, especially those from diverse ethnic backgrounds, resources should urgently be redirected from policing to grassroots organisations that are actually embedded within communities’.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have officially referred the Met officer who shot Chris to the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider a potential murder charge (The Guardian, 30 March).
Kaba, 24, was killed by a single gunshot on 5 September 2022 in Streatham, south London. He was in a dark Audi car, which came to a halt and was boxed in by police.
The IOPC announced a homicide investigation into the officer involved (known as NX121) shortly after the incident. They confirmed that no non-police-issue firearm was recovered from the scene.
The case now referred, the CPS could decide to bring no criminal charge, a murder charge or prosecute for a different criminal offence.
Kaba’s family have also expressed concerns regarding the resignation of high ranking members of IOPC staff in subsequent months, saying that they found it ‘unsettling’ and they were ‘concerned’ about any potential impact on the inquiry and its timeframe (BBC News, 17 March).
The family released a statement reading: ‘We have concerns that two of the senior people at the IOPC who have been overseeing the homicide investigation in this case — Michael Lockwood and Sal Naseem — have resigned during the investigation.’
The IOPC said that a ‘decision-maker’ role in the inquiry had been reallocated to the director of operations, Amanda Rowe.
Section 60 watch*
Lambeth (18 Mar)
Chatham (22 Mar)
* This is not a comprehensive list
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