Police legitimacy report highlights stop and search concerns

By agency reporter
December 13, 2017

Police forces are committed to sustaining and improving the trust and confidence of the public, but they risk damage to their relationships with local communities by continuing to be unable to demonstrate fair use of stop and search, according to a report released by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Police legitimacy is one of the all-force inspections carried out by HMICFRS as part of their annual PEEL reports. The inspections into police legitimacy have focused on three main questions:

  • To what extent do forces treat all the people they serve with fairness and respect?
  • How well do forces ensure that their workforces behave ethically and lawfully? and
  • To what extent do forces treat their workforces with fairness and respect?

In this year’s report, one force – Kent Police – has been graded as ‘outstanding’, 35 as ‘good’, six forces as ‘requires improvement’ and no forces as ‘inadequate’. This is largely consistent with the overall legitimacy judgments in 2016.

HMI Mike Cunningham, who led this inspection, said, “The extent to which police forces act in a fair and respectful way towards the communities they serve is a vital influence on public trust and confidence. So I’m pleased to report that the police service overall continues to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public, including acting ethically and lawfully and treating all the people they serve with fairness and respect.

“We assessed well over three quarters of forces as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in this regard. But that is not to say that there aren’t elements forces could and should improve upon. Of particular concern is the continuing over-representation of black people in stop and search figures. Forces must be able to explain the reasons for any disparity in their stop and search figures if they are to enhance the trust and confidence of all communities.”

Overall, the report found that police leaders continue to have a clear understanding of the value of treating the public with fairness and respect, and they are succeeding in establishing this approach throughout their workforces. Forces are increasingly providing training in unconscious bias and communication skills to improve their interactions with the public and enhance the public’s perception that they are treated fairly and with respect.

The report also highlights further progress required from some forces on:

  • Compliance with national vetting policy;
  • Complaint handling, especially in responding to and investigating discrimination complaints appropriately;
  • Performance management for officers and staff; and
  • Access for officers and staff to wellbeing provision and support.

The report makes a formal recommendation around the use of stop and search powers. Forces should implement further training to tackle unconscious bias and should develop a more comprehensive set of data and information to understand fully, and address if necessary, any reasons for disproportionate use of stop and search. Forces should publish their analysis and any resulting action taken at least on an annual basis from July 2018.

Furthermore, the report addresses the significant variation in the use of spit-guards; the equipment used in some forces – 19 forces as of 31 January 2017 – to mitigate the effects of spitting or biting. The report recommends further consideration of their use and suggests that national advice or guidance would be beneficial.

PEEL is an annual assessment of police forces in England and Wales. Forces are assessed on their effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. They are judged as outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate on these categories based on inspection findings, analysis and Her Majesty’s Inspectors’ professional judgment across the year.

Read PEEL: Police legitimacy 2017  here

* Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/

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