News / avon and somerset police

Police announce plan to overhaul stop-and-search

By Adam Postans , Friday Jul 14, 2023

Avon & Somerset Police is changing how officers carry out stop-and-searches as part of its first steps to rebuild the trust of Black and ethnic minority communities, the force’s top officer has announced.

It comes after chief constable Sarah Crew last month admitted the constabulary was “institutionally racist” and that its culture needed urgent reform.

Her public declaration was backed by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and police and crime commissioner (PCC) Mark Shelford but was criticised by the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, and a Bristol city councillor who called for her sacking if she did not issue a “retraction and apology”.

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Speaking at a monthly PCC performance and accountability board meeting on Tuesday, July 11, chief constable Crew said three “innovative” pilot projects were ready to be launched to start the long process of improving experiences and outcomes for people from Black and ethnic minority communities.

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Read more: Chief constable: Avon and Somerset police is ‘institutionally racist’

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“Those proposals are around stop-and-search, some deferred prosecutions for first-time offenders and a new service standard for Black or minoritised victims of crime,” she said.

“We want to involve interested community members, people with lived experience, in shaping those proposals and evaluating how they’re working, certainly before we roll them out any further.

“We’ve also been consulting on an anti-racism strategy and we want advice and scrutiny on that too, not just the strategy but how we implement it, and we are seeking and helping to form independent scrutiny groups to monitor the work that we’re doing.

“That’s the short-term work that’s ready to go, it’s on the blocks, and it will prompt change in the culture because we’re changing procedures for how we do things fundamentally.

“But I also recognise that this is going to take much more fundamental sustained work to change the culture.”

She said this included a five-year strategic plan that aimed to “build an inclusive culture which will inspire and strengthen the confidence of all the communities we serve in Avon & Somerset”.

Chief constable Crew said: “There are many aspects to that, not just the short-term hits, not just systematic changes, because it is a systemic change that’s needed, but building in inclusive leadership is almost the most important, and so work on that front is very much underway.

Asked for more information on the three pilot projects, a police spokesperson said the force was adopting an “explain or reform” approach to stop-and-search.

“All officers now receive regular refresher training on how to conduct fair and respectful stop searches, and the use of body-worn video to record all such interactions is mandatory,” they said.

“Internal and external scrutiny panels will meet to review stop searches, to identify learning for individual officers and teams.

“A new stop-search receipt is being developed to make it easier for people who have been stopped and searched to provide feedback on their experience.

“We also want to get communities involved in developing our policy and practices.

“So, we are consulting with our communities over the next few months, to ensure any changes we make will reduce disproportionality and rebuild trust and confidence from our Black heritage communities.”

The spokesperson said the constabulary was also looking to introduce the Chance to Change programme piloted in Birmingham and London, which has “shown a positive impact in reducing reoffending for 18 to 24-year-olds”.

It allows people to avoid the criminal justice system for low-level or first-time offences.

At present, dealing with cases out of court requires an admission of guilt, which “research has shown can be a barrier to people with lower trust and confidence levels in the police… this is particularly prevalent within Black and ethnically minoritised groups, therefore leading to harsher and disproportionate criminal justice outcomes”.

The third pilot programme aims to treat victims of crime equally, including understanding “cultural trauma and inclusivity” for people of Black heritage to ensure “fairer, more sensitive policing”, the spokesperson added.

More information on how to get involved in the force’s Race Matters programme is here.

Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol

Main photo: Avon & Somerset Police

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