Stop and search leaving people scared to make complaints, say Newham campaigners
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Young people who have been stopped and searched by police are scared to make formal complaints for fear of police harassment, according to campaigners.
Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), a civil rights group based in Upton Park, said the low number of complaints – less than 1 per cent of the number of stops – was down to lack of trust in the police.
Estelle Du Boulay, director of the NMP, which is currently raising funds to monitor government reforms to stop and search, said: “It’s very common that people will say they don’t make a complaint because they’re worried that something will happen to them, that there will be some strong reprisal to it.
“They think there will be some level of harassment from the police.”
Police figures show that despite a total of 18,350 stops in Newham from September 2013 to August this year, only nine complaints were made – just 0.0005 per cent.
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These figures could mean people are happy with police use of stop and search, but Ms Du Boulay says she hears many complaints from people “being stopped disrespectfully, not being given a receipt after being stopped, people having to take off their shoes on the street, which isn’t supposed to happen”.
She said: “Young people say this to us all the time, and we have gone out and witnessed it ourselves – young people being stopped because of how they look, what their hairstyle is, and their race.
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“I remember walking into work and seeing a young man on the street. He got stopped and he had literally just been standing there.
“He felt very uncomfortable about the way he had been searched. He said, ‘I’ve been stopped because I’m wearing a hoodie’.”
“During the Olympics people said they had to make a choice between their rights and being arrested. And that’s a terrible situation.”
She added: “It’s unacceptable and unlawful, and it’s self-defeating, because the police need the trust of the community to do their job.”
Incidents of racism in Newham’s police force have occurred in the past, though the police have taken action.
In June the Recorder revealed three police officers had been sacked for using racist language a year earlier through a freedom of information request.
Tom Antebi, 27, from Stratford, of the youth group Dost, runs workshops at the Trinity Centre in East Ham with young migrants and refugees, whom he says are often stopped by police.
He said: “There’s a strong sense that ‘the police will do whatever they want, and it doesn’t matter how many of my rights I know’. And that’s one of the things we have to change, that idea.
“Because actually there is a complaints procedure. You can do something.”
Mr Antebi, who was stop and searched himself as a student, said: “It’s not a very pleasant experience.
“But I’m a white man and I don’t want to compare what happened to the kind of experiences that other people have had.
“The black community have really been at the sharp end of this.
“I think the feeling is that the community would like to have good relations with the police, but it’s made increasingly difficult when they’re the minority but they are subject this power more than everyone else.”
Ms Du Boulay said: “The newest reforms that came out in August do address racial disproportionality. We want to see if they make any difference.”
NMP’s crowdfunding campaign, backed by poet and NMP patron Benjamin Zephaniah, seeks to pay for a part-time officer to make people aware of their rights, help people make complaints if they want to, or it they don’t, to make a record of their experience.
The group is also calling for the complaints process to be improved, saying the online forms are confusing, and that responses can take up to a year.
Ms Du Boulay added: “If 99 out of 100 young people say they don’t want to make a complaint, this process can’t work.”
A Met police spokesman said The Public Attitude Survey found that 71 pc of Londoners are in favour of police using stop and search, and 70 pc are confident it is used fairly.
The spokesman also pointed to the police’s stop and search community monitoring network, overseen by MOPAC.
Supt Ian Lardner of Newham Police said of the 380 people stop and searched in the borough in September, 80 were arrested, or 22pc, which is above the Met target of 20pc, and around half the stops were for suspected anti-social behaviour or weapons possession.
He said: “The statistics show that we are targeting the people that we should be. None the less, stop and search it is still a difficult call to make.
“We aim to stop and search in a respectful and dignified manner, telling people what we are doing and why we are searching them and explaining our grounds for doing so. In a small proportion it will end up in confrontation.”
He added: “It is accepted that there is still racism in the police but it is clearly a minority of officers.
“It is an ongoing issue and we are constantly monitoring that.
“If there is an officer who conducts 20 stop and searches on young black males and there were no grounds for doing so, then that would be questioned.”
For more visit nmp.org.uk or dostcentre.org.