Stop and search: Out on patrol with Newham’s police
- Credit: Archant
According to the latest data, 553 stop and searches were carried out in Newham in one month. From those, 100 people were arrested.
Despite the police believing it to be successful, misconceptions about the controversial method are rife.
The Recorder spent a day with Newham’s enforcement partnership team, to see how searches are carried out, and what difference they’re making in the borough.
“Without stop and search, we wouldn’t be able to do our job,” explained Pc Joseph Harris, who’s driving the van during our ridealong. We’re joined by fellow constable, James Jessett, and Sergeant Steve Micallef, who’s been working in Newham for 14 years.
“It’s the single most useful tool we’ve got for stopping crime,” he continued.
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“If we didn’t use stop and search, we’d have to wait for someone to get stabbed before we could do anything about it. It’s a preventative measure.”
Stop and search is intelligence-led. That means officers must have sufficient grounds to stop someone before they act.
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“Our officers must have a firm belief that they need to stop that person,” said Inspector Stubbs, who heads the team.
“They’ll speak to the person before searching them, the conversation is calm and considerate, and any concerns that the individual has are answered.
“Above all, they have to ensure carrying out that search is in the correct legal framework. It’s a huge responsibility, but I’m confident that the training they’re given puts them in a good position to make those decisions.”
Insp Stubbs has massive confidence in his officers to carry out searches, and that confidence has grown further since the introduction of body-worn cameras just over a year ago.
The cameras are on standby for the duration of patrols, and as soon as officers begin a search, they turn them on. The cameras begin filming 30 seconds before being switched on, so the whole incident is recorded. That footage is then stored on a database and reviewed by senior officers.
“The body-worn video was brought in to increase transparency,” Insp Stubbs said.
“If people lodge complaints about a search, we’ve now got evidence of the entire encounter. It means any doubts or questions raised can be answered.”
Footage can also be reviewed by the public in community monitoring groups. Each borough has a group, where people review the statistics of stop and searches, watch the body-worn footage, and act as independent overseers.
This added level of scrutiny allows officers to carry out searches with confidence, and the results speak for themselves. Of August’s 553 searches, there were 100 arrests, 31 fines given, and 33 warnings made. That’s a positive outcome of around 32 per cent, which Insp Stubbs said is high.
That was proven during our ridealong. Of our two searches, arrests were made for both.
The first was near Green Street, in Upton Park. The constables told me this was a notorious area for thefts and crime, and while driving, they notice a known class A drug user, who’d been arrested a few weeks earlier.
Each officer is issued with a tablet, so when they stop someone, they can pull up information held on file about them.
After checking the tablet, they found that suspect was wanted for recall to prison – since being released a week before, he’d broken the conditions of his release, and was due to go back. He was arrested and taken to Leyton Custody Centre, where he’d spend the night before going back to prison.
The next stop was in a private car park in Stratford, where the officers knew of abandoned cars being used by addicts.
Two men were found in one car, along with wraps of heroin and cocaine. One was arrested, and taken to Forest Gate police station for an interview.
I asked how effective it was arresting single people in searches like this, when they could be tackling issues like gang crime, or youth violence.
“The national media like to focus on the big things,” Pc Harris said.
“But we take a user off the streets, and for the residents of Green Street, that’s one less person bothering or threatening them at night.
“For people in the community, it doesn’t matter whether we’re focusing on the big things or not – we’re making their streets safer.”