Human rights group praises Stop & Search reforms

A global human rights group has hailed West Midlands Police for its Stop & Search reforms − and suggested Continental cops could benefit from following the force's lead.

Open Society Foundations is hosting a conference in Birmingham this week (3-6 October) to shine a light on West Midlands Police's efforts make street stops fairer, more targeted and officers more accountable.

Senior officers from Germany, Spain and Switzerland − all looking to review their stop and search procedures − are attending the Cannon Street event to hear inputs from academics, UK police chiefs and experts in the field.

They also spent time with city centre officers to observe street stops in action.

The delegates watched as cops searched six people; one man was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine, while cannabis and a psychoactive substance were seized from two others who were allowed on their way after being offered advice.

Latest stop and search stats show that the force's intelligence-led approach is succeeding.

In 2011-12 the force carried out 64,000 searches with just four per cent resulting in arrests − but last year 2,900 people (or around 16 per cent) were arrested from a total of 18,127 street stops.

And a quarter of all stop and searches carried out in 2015-16 had a positive outcome with the subject being arrested, given a fixed penalty fine, cautioned, receiving a cannabis warning, agreeing a community resolution or some other disposal method.

Dr Rebekah Delsol from Open Society's Justice Initiative, said: "Stop and search is one of the more thorny police issues…doing it right is key to good community relations and forces around the world are reviewing their procedures and looking for examples of good practice.

"West Midlands Police has overhauled its approach to stop and search…and with impressive results. That's why we've chosen Birmingham to host this event and I'm sure delegates will go away with lots of food for thought."

Over the last two years, West Midlands Police has overhauled its use of stop and search − and central to those changes has been increased openness and public involvement.

Members of the public sit on scrutiny panels − which meet bi-monthly to assess stop and search records − to give communities a voice on the force's use of its powers, while information detailing all encounters is now logged on a new electronic recording system.

Data is uploaded to the national police.uk website and anyone searched by a West Midlands Police officer can easily access information on police powers and how to give feedback via a web address and QR code.

And all front line officers − those who may be required to stop someone in the street − have received additional training on how searches should be conducted.

West Midlands Police Inspector, Dave Whordley, said: "Stop and search is an important police power. As a force we will always back officers who use their powers legitimately and accountably, but when stop and search is misapplied, and when people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is unfair, wastes valuable police time, and damages the relationship between communities and the police.

"That is why we have introduced reforms designed to ensure our stop and searches are properly targeted and intelligence-led.

"Our reforms are working: HMIC inspectors recently praised the force for its use of stop and search, noting that we effectively monitor the use of such powers on young people and members of black and Asian communities."

The Open Society Foundations' conference features presentations from the Home Office, the IPCC, College of Policing, the Equality & Human Rights Commission and stop and search project leads from the Met, Northamptonshire and Merseyside Police.

Assistant West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner Ashley Bertie, added: "I am pleased to welcome police forces from across the globe to the West Midlands to show them the progress we've made to improve public confidence in stop and search.

"We have made stop and search fairer and more efficient…disproportionality is down and the number of positive results arising from stop and searches is up.

"To support this work we hold regular workshops in schools across the region so that young people have a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities. This work has reached thousands of young people.

"There is still much to do, but I am pleased that the West Midlands is leading the way on this important area."