*BAME individuals 2.7 times more likely to be stopped & searched by the police in Gloucester
The Gloucestershire police stop and search scrutiny panel is independent of the force. Its members, volunteers from the community, have the ability to review any of the stop searches carried out by the constabulary.
For reasons that will become obvious this article has been produced independently of the panel and has no endorsement from it.
Just by way of history, up until it was repealed in 1981, the police used to have the power to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.
The 'sus' laws as they were known had always attracted considerable controversy and caused much discontent among certain sections of the population, particularly black and ethnic minorities, against whom the law was particularly targeted by the police.
Back in 2008 the Conservative Party, then in opposition, announced that, if elected, they would seek to return similar powers to the police. By 2016 a framework for new stop & search powers had been established.
Now, police officers have to have an objectively reasonable suspicion they will find illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something which could be used to commit crime. The search needs to be necessary and proportionate. A detailed electronic record is made and their sergeant checks that everything is legitimate.
A fundamental part of this new framework is that these searches can be reviewed by the local community. The scrutiny panel sits at the Police Constabulary HQ at Quedgeley in normal times and uses Zoom during the Covid-19 restrictions.
The panel can select searches to be scrutinised by any criteria; legislation used, object of search, sex, ethnicity etc. We check that Home Office guidance has been followed and we rate each search as green, amber or red. Amber or red searches are sent back for more detail and reviewed again at the next meeting.
All personal data is anonymised and police officers relay all the detailed information of each stop search to the panel from the police computer system and a vetted member of the panel looks over their shoulder to ensure transparency.
Being aware of the history of stop & search, I have been paying close attention to the interrogation of this data. I have been looking for any evidence of bias, yet I have found that all the searches to be of good quality. This means that Home Office guidance and process is being followed.
Reassured, last year, I started publishing information about these stop searches on the Stroud Against Racism Facebook group. As part of my collating process, back in June 2020, I did notice what could be potential bias in searches in Gloucester District (B). I raised my concern and to my surprise, last November, the Panel was briefed with the finding of a report that did indeed confirm bias in a 'couple of wards'.The panel was told that there needed to be further investigation to understand why.
Although the panel could ask questions we did not get sight of this report. I complained and was promised a copy of a 'sanitised version' which, despite constant pestering has never arrived.
Separately, towards the end of December 2020, I was approached by a member of the public who told me that the police didn't like the report as it showed racial bias and it had been sent back to Bristol University to be redone using different statistical parameters. Clearly, this allegation was serious and I believed a formal response was necessary. Not least to demonstrate the openness of the panel to the community but also reinforce trust and confidence.
I requested this response from the Chair of the panel and after escalating the issue, the involvement of Bristol University was denied and an ambiguous e-mail chain resulted. The internal report was to be merged with another for the panel to see in April. It was apparent that a different report was being prepared for external publication. This ambiguity made me curious.
Therefore, I decided to dive deeper into the data published by the Home Office. There was a fair amount of data manipulation to get each stop search record to map back to an electoral ward and matching the vague officer defined ethnicity to the equally imprecise BAME categorisation.
So, whilst my analysis may not reflect exactly that in the 'internal' police report, I'm certain that it's in the right ballpark. It reveals that the percentage of BAME stops for central Gloucester is very high indeed.
Since publication the Police have stated that :-
At no point in the compilation of this report have we used Bristol or any other university to contribute to it, there was no sanitisation.
We have indeed been delayed and I can accept too slow in merging the two reports and releasing it, you would have a fair point here.
The delay in releasing was not caused by the chair of the panel , it was caused by the constabulary simply not having it ready for release.
The report has been released to the Legitimacy panel and it is our intention to release it to the stop search scrutiny panel.
Given the generally accepted 4.6% county-wide diversity statistic my analysis indicated that a BAME individual could be up to eleven times more likely to be stopped in Gloucester according to the initial interpretation of the data.
Clearly, Barton & Tredworth ward has a high level of stop searches of which 50% are on BAME individuals. Barton & Tredworth is an incredibly diverse ward with a strong sense of community. On further investigation the 2011 census data shows that this ward has 41% diversity. Once you take this into account the number of stop searches are roughly in proportion to the diversity of that ward.
This seems counter-intuitive as ward diversity and deprivation are often cited as reasons for bias and disparity in official stop and search statistics. Maybe, I too was biased in thinking that this particular ward would highlight issues relating to Stop & Search?
Challenging my own initial assumption, maybe the police have been working well with the community? Maybe there has been a focus on training, better engagement? These are questions that only the police themselves can answer.
So, I decided to tie the Home Office records back to all the electoral wards using this 2011 census data, to give a better idea of the ward ethnicity.
This is a flawed approach because the people being stopped and searched may not be resident in that ward. Westgate ward which contains Gloucester Quays is a good example of this. The panel scrutinises many stop searches for shoplifting, called in by the stores in the centre.
Using this information it's possible to view the data in a different light and challenges preconceived expectations. We now see that the top ward for concern is where the Police Constabulary Headquarters is located! However, with only 16 searches over the 11 month period we need to be careful not to jump to any conclusions.
Thanks to Robin Layfield for the infographic design.
The stop & search scrutiny panels only look at individual stops and are not capable of detecting racial bias in the use of Stop & Search powers.
The stop & search scrutiny panel members are, therefore, unknowingly validating the use of police powers that give the appearance of being used in a racially discriminatory way.
Whilst there are positives in this data, questions need to be asked about how the issues highlighted here are being addressed.
When unfavourable data is highlighted, there needs to be better communication to both the stop & search scrutiny panel and the community so sensitive issues can be properly investigated.
Separately, using the same technique, analysing the 246 searches in Stroud against a diversity of 2.5%, reveals that a BAME individual is 3 times more likely to be stopped & searched.
* Subsequent to publication of this report I've been made aware that the term BAME is considered deeply offensive as it homogenises a complex number of groups and dehumanises those within the groups. I take full responsibility for its use here, the objective being to raise awareness of the racial bias, not cause offence. I'm seeking advice from within the community to help me devise a better way of presenting this data.