Cambs Police Authority Scrutiny Committee September 2011


Thursday, September 15th, 2011. 4:24pm


Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee Webpage Screenshot

On the 12th of September 2011 I attended a meeting of the scrutiny committee of Cambridgeshire’s Police Authority at Cambridgeshire Police Headquarters in Huntington.

I have written separate articles on two aspects of the meeting:

  • Restorative Justice Update – My use of the public speaking slot to ask for more information about the way the force is using restorative justice and to complain about the failure of the police authority to be kept informed and given the opportunity to approve, or reject, the scheme.
  • Call Handling Performance – Article on shocking revelations of a “fragile” phone system and 20,000 unanswered calls to the non-emergency number in two months.

I arrived at Police HQ and had to show my passport at reception despite the meeting being held in a room directly off the main entrance foyer. I was told that the committee members were in a closed pre-meeting session. It appears one of these is held before every charade of an open public police authority meeting.

Cllr Victor Lucas came into the reception area to great me, he introduced himself as the chair of the committee. This was despite the agenda indicating the meeting’s first task was to appoint a chair, it being the first meeting of a new cycle. It appeared this was at least one of the items where the decision had been cooked up in advance, in secret.

On entering the committee room I noticed that there were police authority members present who were not listed on the agenda as committee members. The agenda listed:

  • Mr A. Ali (Appointee)
  • Mr J. Batchelor (Elected County Councillor)
  • Mr M Lee (Elected Peterborough City Councillor)
  • Mr V. Lucas (Elected County Councillor)
  • Mr J. Pye (Appointee)
  • Ms N. Williams (Appointee)
  • Mrs J. Wright (Appointee)

I have added the information in brackets based on information on members published by the authority.

That’s three elected members, in a minority given the presence of four appointees.

Unelected appointee Ruth Joyce was present at the meeting itself and played as full a role as the other members despite not being listed on the agenda as a committee member. The chair of the authority, unelected appointee Ruth Rogers was also present.

I would check the list of committee memberships as approved at the last full authority meeting to find out who was actually on the committee, but the link to the report (item 19) from the meeting’s webpage is broken.

The addition of the two extra appointees meant in total there were three elected members and six appointees.

Two key reports were originally omitted from the meeting papers for the scrutiny committee which were published online. Both the “performance pack” – a set of graphs on performance, including the phone handling data, and a report on the police authority joining Twitter were omitted, and were only published following lobbying from the press and public. Given the fact the authority’s administration costs a million pounds a year or so and the clerk herself gets paid ~£100,000 to be secretary to the authority I find this performance appalling.

One of the first things the meeting did was to election Cllr Lucas chair. This election gives Cllr Lucas an allowance of £13,059/year, this is in addition to the allowances gets for being a councillor. (Some members have very poor attendance records but still trouser hefty allowances).

I was directed to sit at the side of the room. The members of the committee, along with Ruth Joyce and Ruth Rogers, were joined round the squareish set of tables by the clerk (who takes the grand title of Chief Executive), a couple of police authority administrators, and three members of the police force. One in a suit, two in uniform, with Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour, in uniform, in the middle. The Chief Constable himself was absent without apologies or explanation despite a number of reports to the committee being presented in his name. There were no other members of the public, or any members of the press, present.

The room was very warm, with no windows to the outside and a very poor mobile phone signal.

After hour and a half or so of the meeting authority members started drifting out, three or four had gone by the time the meeting concluded.

The Meeting Itsself

The chair’s election was followed by the approval of the minutes of the last meeting and my contribution as a public speaker.

Stop and Search Statistics

The first report was a “Review of All Stops Proportionality“.

Mr Feavyour noted that the 115% year on year increase in stop and search had been reported on in the press; he said this showed the increase was “of come concern to the local community”. (It doesn’t, it just means a journalist has read the meeting papers).

Mr Feavyour claimed there was a direct link between the increase in stop and search and reductions in burglary, cycle theft, and robbery.

The committee were told that the force was no considering both complaints and “concerns” raised about stop and search. Only 4 complaints about stop and search had been received following the 8,000 or so people stopped and searched in the period. There had though been 32 concerns raised, generally parents calling up and asking for an explanation as to why their children had been stopped and searched. Mr Feavyour told the committee that generally the parents had been happy with the reasons given.

Then the meeting got a bit odd.

Mr Feavyour pointed out that the proportion of stops and searches which led to “no further action” were about the same for people of different “self defined ethnicities”.

Despite this fact, many authority members expressed concern that those calling themselves “Black or Black British” were twice as likely to be stopped as those calling themselves “White”.

A large number of members of the authority appeared to think there was a problem with the rate of stop and search being different for different self defined ethnic groups. Appointee Nic Williams appeared even concerned about the fact women were not getting stopped anything like as often as men. Mr Feavyour responded to say the vast majority of those the police stopped and searched were young men.

The thing which would be concerning to me is if within certain groups it was much more likely for a search which didn’t find anything to prompt further action to take place. This isn’t happening. I think those authority members who want equal of rates of stop and search across racial, sex, and age, groups are bonkers and it’s a good job the committee never took a vote on the subject. If the police were to remain arresting the same number of young men following stops and searches they’d have to be stopping lots of innocent women and older people; a bizzare and impossible target to set given presumably if they had reason to stop and search such people they already would be doing so.

Mr Feavyour said the census data was flawed, and reality, especially the population “on the street” might actually more closely correspond with the police’s stop and search data.

Ruth Joyce asked for the “White” group to be split into White British, White European, and White Other. Nic Williams said she was Welsh and wouldn’t classify her self in the “White British” category.

Ruth Rodgers said she was aware there were lots of aspergic people, particularly in the Cambridge part of the force area who did things, like photograph buildings, which while innocent sometimes brought them to the attention of the police. She asked if there was any way of capturing data on how often the police were stopping and searching such people.

Cllr John Batchelor argued for the reinstatement of recording of ethnicity of those stopped and asked to account for their actions. He argued that without this data the police authority could not assure itsself that the police were treating people of different ethnicities fairly. He said the stop and search data was insufficient as it didn’t cover as many interactions with the police, and was limited to the more serious ones.

Mr Feavyour argued strongly against this, on the grounds of it being a waste of police time and annoying people who were stopped. One of the younger members of the committee, Matthew Lee (30) agreed, he said he was often stopped by the police while going to work in the early hours and he didn’t want to be giving details each time.

Mr Feavyour said he’d like to see officers asked what racial group they thought someone was from before they stopped them; rather than relying on self defined ethnicity. He noted that if someone’s race was being taken into account by officers stopping people that would be a problem. The committee were also told that the force was working with Dr Ariel of Cambridge University to research their stop and search performance.

Committee members asked if certain ethnic groups were more likely to be responsible for particular types of crime. Mr Feavyour said he didn’t have the statistics with him, but generally the answer was no, but with some exceptions eg. people trafficking.

Cllr Lucas, from the chair, summed up the discussion saying that the committee was “not OK” with the variation in stop and search rates between ethnic groups. The committee asked the force to do more to try and find out the reasons for the differences.

Custody Inspection

The committee paper stated:

A draft report has been received from HMIC to allow matters of accuracy to be checked. The final report is due in the week commencing 19th September 2011.

The chief executive of the authority stated the report had not yet been received. (The draft report was not shared with committee members, or included in the meeting papers)

Local Policing Plan

The main point discussed was anti-social behaviour, and its definition.

Cllr Batchelor said people still raised “ASB” as an issue they were concerned about even when recorded levels of things the police count as “ASB” were very low. He said people were concerned about a recurrance of problems and wanted to know the police would be primed to act if there were problems and that was their motive for raising it at consultation events.

Engagement Strategy

Police Authority officers complained that they hadn’t had a very good response from local councillors when they had tried to engage with them.

Twitter

Cllr Lucas, the chairman, said that joining Twitter could help the authority get more people to take an interest in its work. He said:

“I doubt that members of the public other than Mr Taylor read the papers we post on our website”.

I had written to the committee prior to the meeting with some comments on their proposals to start tweeting.

The authority was given a table showing how many followers other police authority twitter accounts had. Ranging from a reported 40 for the Metropolitan Police Authority to 694 for Surrey. (I note the @MPADirect account is hard to find as they’ve not used the words “Metropolitan Police Authority” in their description!)

Members of the authority said they aspired to be as popular as Surrey and tasked their staff to investigate what Surrey was doing well.

Unlelected appointee John Pye said the number of followers wasn’t that important as messages could be “bounced on to others”.

Ruth Rogers said this was right, and described how she knew of someone who’d written a tweet about a toy that had been lost which had been sent to 1.2 million people and resulted in a number of offers from people offering to send a replacement toy.

Committee member Nic Williams revealed she tweeted, and followed @CambsCops, (she did not reveal her Twitter name). She said Twitter was useful for contacting the media and that was useful even if few members of the public actively followed the authority.

The chief executive proposed a “slow build up” of the rate of tweeting and “not starting at 10/day” she didn’t explain her rationale for this. She said the lesson from other authorities was they had “not been overwhelmed” with responses to their tweets. On the subject of responding to items raised via Twitter the chief executive said “the authority has a telephone and we cope with answering that”.

Unelected appointee Jayne Wright said she would not support members tweeting as individuals as this could “cause confusion” and there might be differences between what members said after a meeting and the official version from the police authority office. This view was strongly supported by other members of the committee, and by the chair in his summary.

The meeting agreed to note the proposals and approve the authority starting to tweet.

Olympics

Mr Feavyour told the committee “no over skilled officers would be used for mutual-aid”, he said “we will send people with less skills, some of our least trained officers to police the venues as they will be mainly involved in giving directions”. He said there was no anticipation of any disorder or crown problems at the Olympics while they were prepared for it.

A member of the authority asked if it was true that there were Met Police Officers in training to run alongside the torch wearing running shorts. Mr Feavyour confirmed this was true. Mr Feavyour did not comment when asked if there were “punt trained police” ready to be used to escort the torch down the river in Cambridge.

Asked about funding the olympic policing, the committee were told the torch procession itsself was to be policed by the Met Police; but with the local forces doing the crowd control along the route and paying for that. Asked about the policing of the Mozambique team training base in Comberton Village College Mr Feavyour said that overseas olympic teams would be charged by the police for services in line with the force’s policy.

Future Business

The committee asked for reports on the way the force are working on the “ASB” “People’s Priority” and noted they’d be looking at the Custody Inspection Report when it was released to them.

They also commented their committee was going to keep going for a bit longer than expected due to the delay in bringing in Police and Crime Commissioners; the Chief Executive said this wasn’t a problem as the authority wasn’t winding down towards the May 2012 date anyway and had always taken a view of continuing with business as usual.

28 comments/updates on “Cambs Police Authority Scrutiny Committee September 2011

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Notably when the Cambridge News covered the 115% increase in stop and search they didn’t mention the figures showed those describing themselves as black were twice as likely to be stopped and searched than those describing themselves as white:

    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/Stop-and-search-numbers-up-in-wake-of-crackdown-07092011.htm

    One reason for this may be that it, unlike the 115% increase in the volume of stop and searches, it isn’t news, in fact in March 2011 a report to the police authority covering the period April 2010 – January 2011 stated:

    In Cambridgeshire, Black / Black British people are 2.5 times more likely to be searched than White people. Asian / Asian British people remain over twice as likely to be searched, and those who are of ‘Mixed’ ethnicity are 1.7 times more likely to be searched.

    When I drew attention to the current race statistic on Twitter I was astonished to find that a few people supported the view of many of the Police Authority members that the police use of stop and search ought be proportionate to the demographic make up of the population.

    A very heated debate ensued and Andrew Griffin, an English student at Homerton College of the University of Cambridge went so far as to describe me as racist a number of times for not supporting such a policy of proportionality. The kind of policy Mr Griffin (and police authority member Nic Williams) would, as I understand it, like to see would result in innocent white grannies being stopped and searched unnecessarily in order to ensure the statistics are not skewed by the police stopping young black criminal men. Mr Griffen and Cambridge graduate student John Gallagher, both objected to my use of the phrase “young criminal black men” in that context.

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    @RTaylorUK being stopped and searched isn’t a nice thing and leads to minority groups feeling persecuted. Doing it to everyone is fair(er)

    Mr Gallagher has written:

    @RTaylorUK They’re stopping double the number of black people but with no chance in ‘success’ rate. A Bad Thing.

    Ignoring that this not about absolute numbers, but about probability; and proportionality; what he appears to be suggesting is that an increase in the “success rate” of a search would justify a higher chance of a person describing themselves as black being searched (and in the absence of such an increase the different chances of being searched cannot be justified). Such a higher “success rate” would to me indicate to me that a higher threshold would be needed to warrant stopping a black person as the police would need to be more confident that they would find something justifying further action when searching a black person. I think its a good thing that the “success rate” of a search is the same across racial groups as it indicated to me that the criteria being used to justify the search is borne out to be right in a similar fraction of cases, and no group is suffering from being put through a disproportionate number of searches which don’t find anything.

    I think we need to be able to debate things like the police’s policy and performance on stop and search in a calm and rational manner without resorting to defamatory attacks on people making alternative arguments. I and others expressed astonishment at the way Mr Griffin, who describes himself as a journalist as the associate editor of the Cambridge “student” newspaper “Varsity” behaved while discussing the statistics.

    My view is that the fact the rates of no-further action following a search are approximately the same for all self-described racial groups shows is indicative of there not being a problem with people being stopped just because of their race. The statistics show that a police officer’s suspicions / reasons for carrying out a search are found to be justified in the same proportion of cases irrespective of race. If there were more people of a particular race being searched and having nothing warranting further action found on them then there would in my view be a problem, but that isn’t happening.

    Mr Griffin’s view is that because a greater proportion of black people are being stopped and searched and the “success” rates of the searches are the same then the higher probability of a black person being stopped leads to a higher probability of them being dealt with, be it by arrest, caution, summons or whichever route is taken [though he just mentions arrest]. He thinks this is wrong; apparently on the basis of [unjustified] assumptions he makes that the probability that someone is a criminal is independent of their race. (And/or that stops and searches are carried out randomly rather than on the basis of reasonable grounds for suspicion). Mr Griffin published his reasoning on the TwitLonger website:

    http://www.twitlonger.com/show/d3ru62

    I disagree and think that if there are reasonable grounds for a stop and search then that search should go-ahead irrespective of race, race should not be a consideration in a decision to stop and search. If the police end up searching, or subsequently arresting, a greater proportion of people describing themselves as black, then I don’t think we ought look just for a problem within the police, but at society as a whole and question why those who describe themselves are black are disproportionately either in the first instance involved in behaviour which justifies police action, or eventually end up in jail following a conviction in the courts. I suspect the root issues we need to look at are, as with so many areas, education and meritocracy.

    There are seven times more black people in prison in the UK than there would be if the prison population reflected that of the general UK population. One might legitimately ask the question why are Cambridgeshire Police only twice as likely to stop a black person and not seven times? Some people look at the prison population statistics and question if the whole criminal justice system is institutionally racist; my view is that the disproportionate number of black people in prison doesn’t, alone, show that it is. But we should of course try and understand the reasons for the disproportionally.

    The important thing is that individuals are treated equally by the police irrespective of their race.

    I don’t think the Cambridgeshire Police statistics on stop and search indicate that this isn’t happening. I can though see that there is an unknown – we don’t know the reasons why the chance of someone describing themselves as black being stopped is twice that of someone who describes themselves as white. That is hopefully a question which the research to be carried out by Dr Ariel, along perhaps with the additional data collection proposed by Mr Feavyour, will help us understand the answer to.

    I am personally enormously concerned about the police not treating everyone equally under the law. My concerns are more with minorities being treated lightly; for example travellers in North Cambridge are not being challenged over illegal parking outside schools because the police fear this will have a negative impact on “community relations”; I argue against this and other positively considered discrimination arguing it’s actually worse for community relations as people resent those the police let get away with crimes.

    Another problem is that the criminal justice system comes down like a tonne of bricks on someone who steals a chocolate bar, but those committing serious fraud (eg. MPs expenses) or recklessly spending public money appear to be able to get away with it. I would be interested to know if there was any inequality in terms of race there; with the kinds of crimes being committed by young men, or black young men, being those our criminal justice system focuses disproportionally on.

    One alternative way of interpreting the latest stop and search statistics is that Cambridgeshire police are most likely to stop and search someone who describes themselves as white unnecessarily – in 67.8% of cases where someone who describes themselves as white is stopped and search the police take no further action. In fact though this figure is, while the highest of any racial group, very close to the figures for the others.

    Explanatory note

    As I cannot access the libel courts due to the costs involved, when serious libellous comments are publicly made about me I have a personal policy of drawing attention to them and explaining, in public, why they are false. To-date this approach has been successful because I have a similar, if not greater, reach via my Twitter feed and blog than those who’ve defamed me, I can see it may not yet work in all situations eg. where someone was defamed by a newspaper. I have invited Mr Griffin to apologise, and debate his point, here on this thread however he has indicated he only wishes to continue the debate in secret via email.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Since writing the above comment and drawing it to Mr Gallagher’s attention he has tweeted:

    @RTaylorUK My position was simply that race shouldn’t be a factor in choosing whom to stop & search.

    However he has gone on to repeat his view that the disproportionality in Cambridgeshire Police’s stops and searches should be eliminated, without giving a mechanism for achieving this.

    I think it would be terrible and illegal to start searching white people, without grounds, in order to balance the statistics.

  3. John Gallagher

    Hi Richard,

    I’ve engaged with this at length on Twitter and am loath to continue to do so, as I think you’ve significantly misrepresented my arguments.

    But you’ve just said this: ‘I think it would be terrible and illegal to start searching white people, without grounds, in order to balance the statistics.’

    I agree. What Andy and I argued consistently wasn’t an increase in stop and search of other racial or ethnic groups. It wasn’t a campaign of targeting ‘innocent white grannies’. It was nothing of the sort.

    Very simply, we would be a bit happier if Cambridge police just stopped using stop & search against double the number of black people as against white. How? Stop being so quick to stop and search black people.

    Richard, on Twitter you’ve just responded to my argument by saying ‘Searching white people w/o grounds is illegal and silly’. This is the difference between our positions. I think searching anyone – regardless of race – without grounds is illegal and silly, and I don’t want it happening in the city I live in.

    Best regards,

    John Gallagher

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    So now we have a hard alternative proposal: to reduce the threshold at which the police decide to stop and search black people.

    I strongly disagree with this; I think the criteria for searching someone ought be the same regardless of race.

    At the moment I don’t think there’s any sign that they are not.

  5. Chris Parker

    Dear Richard,

    From what I understand, John and Andrew used the given stats to suggest that the ‘stop and search’ policy ought not to be so discriminatory on ethnicity given that the same ratio of white people are caught out in stop and searches as black people. Furthermore, given historical precedence both in this country and abroad, for black men being targeted owing to the colour of their skin, and the disproportionately large number of black men targeted in comparison with white, it seems fair to suggest that police stop and search tactics are not wholly based on potential criminality, but on ethnicity. The coincidence is too high. The issue at hand is what creates a potential suspect, which the stats appear to indicate is ethnicity. Yet, given that the stats also show that the success rate for arresting people is the same across ethnicities, this suggests that this approach is incorrect. It has nothing to do with arresting elderly white grannies, as I am sure it has nothing to do with arresting elderly black grannies. Instead, it is based on the possible prejudicial system of stop/searching as indicated (although not proven) by historical and partly empirical evidence.

    It seems also that you have taken trouble to wrest control of the debate tweeting papers to draw their attention to two (out of ten thousand plus) Cambridge students as if a difference in opinion is somehow unexpected and potentially controversial.

    This is nothing against the substance of your argument (which I’m not wholly sure of as it seems to have changed slightly), just that this is an ever escalating episode which does not reflect well on anybody.

    Best,

    Chris

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    Chris,

    it seems fair to suggest that police stop and search tactics are not wholly based on potential criminality, but on ethnicity. The coincidence is too high.

    No. Co-incidence does not imply causality.

    given that the stats also show that the success rate for arresting people is the same across ethnicities, this suggests that this approach is incorrect.

    I don’t think the stats do show the approach is incorrect. On the contrary they vindicate it. The probability of someone who is stopped and searched having further action taken against them by the police is the same regardless of race.

    I can’t see how anyone would want this statistic to be any different?

    If the stats showed a group was twice as likely as another to face no further action we’d surely conclude they were getting stopped disproportionately unnecessarily.

    As I’ve said I agree it would be useful to have more information on how decisions to stop and search someone are made. Research is under-way and suggestions for increased data collection have been made.

    In terms of trying to draw the professional (and more wider reaching) media’s attention to this – I think that is a useful thing to do as this is clearly a subject there needs to be a public debate on and we all need to know what the police are doing, in our name, on our behalf, and come to a view on if we’re happy with it or not.

    I think it is notable that these two who are arguing for the proportion of stops and searches to reflect the proportion of various racial groups in the total population are Cambridge University students. One would expect, certainly a History PhD student, to take an analytical and intelligent approach.

    My position has not changed. It remains as set out in the above article. It is simply that if there is grounds to stop and search someone that should be done irrespective of their race. Those who want to artificially adjust when stop and search is carried out in order to equalise the statistics to reflect the proportion of various racial groups in the population are in my view meddling with a basic tenet of policing and justice – that everyone should be treated equally under the law.

    As for this being an “escalating episode” there are many aspects of policing which are the subjects of highly impassioned debates on which people have strongly held views. eg. Drugs policy. I don’t think we should shy away from such debates.

    When it comes to race and equality; it’s easy to say you don’t want racism in our institutions. Harder though is to determine how that should be achieved, as then you have to get into discussions like these, and on difficult subjects such as positive discrimination.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I will respond in detail to Griffin’s TwitLonger posting (Alternative link):

    Griffin has written: “In the case of black people, n is twice as high. 2n”. This is not the case.

    What is true is that those describing themselves as black are twice as likely to be stopped and searched as those who describe themselves as white. This is not the same as saying twice as many black people are getting stopped as white people.

    For the reporting period August 2010 – July 2011 (source) the number describing themselves as white stopped was 14,096 and the number who described themselves as Black or Black British was 502

    If 14,096 = n
    502 = 0.0356n

    So in the case of black people the number is 0.0356n ie. it’s nowhere near “2″.

    Even if I take the “b=2n” starting point suggested.

    If I take the two statements::
    b=2n
    w=n

    and eliminate n I get:
    w=b/2
    or
    b=2w

    Griffin’s elimination is wrong. In any case the equation is actually irrelevant to the simple point Mr Griffin is trying to make in a very convoluted manner.

    What is true is that the probability of someone describing themselves as black in Cambridgeshire getting stopped and searched is twice that of someone who describes themselves as white.

    The statistics show that the rate of “no further action” being taken against someone following a stop and search is about the same for those who describe as white (67.8%) and black (65.9%).

    As the probably of further action being taken against someone who is stopped and searched is very similar irrespective of race, this means that the chance of action being taken against someone describing themselves as black is also twice that of someone who describes themselves as white. This is the only point which Mr Griffin’s convoluted, and wrong, algebra was seeking to “prove”.

    Mr Griffin appears to think this is inherently evidence of a problem. It might well show something’s wrong with society, police action is being taken disproportionately against black people, but I don’t think it shows there is necessarily anything wrong with the approach Cambridgeshire Police’s approach to stop and search. We need to consider if black people are disproportionately more likely to give grounds for being stopped and searched (and having further action taken if warranted).

    I find it reassuring that the success rate of stop and search is independent of race; this suggests to me that a police officer’s grounds for stopping a black person tend to be justified (as evidenced by the outcome) in the same fraction of cases as for a white person; this suggests that the similar standards are being applied to set the criteria for stopping and searching blacks as for whites.

    I would not want to see different standards / thresholds for stopping and searching being set based on an individual’s race. I think that has the potential to be highly divisive, I want to see everyone treated equally under the law and see that as a basic tenet of justice and policing.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    Still trying to work out what Griffin might have been seeking to do here:

    Let n be proportion of white people searched;
    then 2n would be the proportion of black people searched;

    Let y be the proportion further action was taken against;
    Let w be the number of white people who had further action taken;
    Let b be the number of black people who had further action taken;

    Then
    White population X n X y = w
    Black population X 2n X y = b

    We can eliminate n from that but it doesn’t make anything useful or pretty.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have come across a tweet from Griffin:

    @RTaylorUK since the number of blacks: whites being stopped is so high, the ground for suspicion *must* be race, and only race.

    This is not an argument; it is an assertion.

    If it were true then one would surely expect no further action to be taken in many more cases of stop and search for blacks then for whites; but this is not what the statistics show.

    Again, correlation, however strong, does not prove causality.

  10. James Purdon

    This seems like shoddy statistics to me. The figure ’14,096′ doesn’t need to be in play, since what we’re comparing are percentages. Well, actually, per-thousands. In the relevant period, 20 white people were stopped and searched for every thousand white people in the population, compared with 41 black people for every thousand black people and 32 asian people for every thousand asian people.

    Given that the NFA (no further action) figures (also percentages — remember, like should be compared with like to avoid obfuscation) are broadly in line, black people were twice as likely to be stopped and searched as a proportion of their ethnic group despite being no more likely to have further action taken against them. The Cambridge Police figures show this clearly, and the report states it unequivocally:

    “In line with the findings of previous reports, Black or Black British, Asian or Asian British and Mixed ethnicity people are more likely to be stopped and searched than White people. Previously, Black or Black British people were over four times more likely to be stopped and searched; but this has now reduced to twice as likely, since taking into account the most recent population figures.”

    In my view, Gallagher and Griffin have the best of this argument, and it seems naive at best to think that the vast disproportionality is sheerly coincidental.

    It would seem quite proper to me that we should have a reduction in all stop and search, and that any continuing power should be as far as possible race-blind. It’s clear that black and asian citizens are being stopped and searched at a disproportionately high level. The reasons for that may be various, but if we were running a race-blind system, as we ought to be, the stop-and-search figures would be broadly in line across all ethnic groups per thousand head of population.

  11. James Purdon

    Further — with apologies for posting twice — on two of your points above:

    1)”We need to consider if black people are disproportionately more likely to give grounds for being stopped and searched (and having further action taken if warranted).”

    The NFA figures show clearly that they aren’t.

    2) “I find it reassuring that the success rate of stop and search is independent of race; this suggests to me that a police officer’s grounds for stopping a black person tend to be justified (as evidenced by the outcome) in the same fraction of cases as for a white person; this suggests that the similar standards are being applied to set the criteria for stopping and searching blacks as for whites.”

    The point is, if you half the percentage of black people being stopped and searched, you’re likely to find that the success rate as a percentage is about the same.

    If you stop 100 white people and 200 black people, and 50 white people and 100 black people are carrying weapons, that’s 50 per cent ‘success’ for each group.

    If in the same sample you stop 100 white people and 100 black people, and 50 white people and 50 black people are carrying weapons, that too is 50 per cent ‘success’ for each group.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    James Purdon wrote (starting by quoting me):

    1)”We need to consider if black people are disproportionately more likely to give grounds for being stopped and searched (and having further action taken if warranted).”

    The NFA figures show clearly that they aren’t.

    No. The No Further Action figures only tell us about those who’ve been stopped and searched. What we don’t know about is the wider population.

    James Purdon wrote :

    The point is, if you half the percentage of black people being stopped and searched, you’re likely to find that the success rate as a percentage is about the same.

    I disagree; to half the percentage of black people stopped and searched we’d presumably have to either have a quota (which after it was reached the police couldn’t stop/search any more blacks) or have a higher threshold of grounds for stopping and searching a black person. In the former case I’d say we’d end up with people who the police ought to have stopped and searched walking away, some of whom would then get a away with crime. In the latter case I’d expect more searches to end up being successful.

    There appear to be a couple of people arguing for less use of Stop and Search; if that’s to be done (and I’m a strong fan of policing that’s less intrusive into law abiding people’s lives) I think the bar for initiating a stop and search should be raised for all, irrespective of race.

    James Purdon wrote:

    If you stop 100 white people and 200 black people, and 50 white people and 100 black people are carrying weapons, that’s 50 per cent ‘success’ for each group.

    That’s right. Yes, but as I’ve stressed above that doesn’t reflect the position in Cambridgeshire. The police are not stop/searching two blacks for every white. They’re stop/searching about 0.036 people who self describe as black for every one who self describes as white. (The discussion is about proportionality given the total population, not absolute numbers).

    James Purdon wrote:

    If in the same sample you stop 100 white people and 100 black people, and 50 white people and 50 black people are carrying weapons, that too is 50 per cent ‘success’ for each group.

    I agree that would be the expected result; but to achieve that you’d be asking the police to work to a quota, or to change their criteria for stop/searching a particular racial group, and I’d oppose that.

    James Purdon wrote:

    In my view, Gallagher and Griffin have the best of this argument, and it seems naive at best to think that the vast disproportionality is sheerly coincidental.

    I can only return to the point that correlation does not prove causation.

    James Purdon wrote:

    It would seem quite proper to me that we should have a reduction in all stop and search,

    I too would like to see this. However this has to be balanced with the police claims that robbery, burglary and cycle crime has gone down as a result of the recent increase and the police performance at solving those crimes has gone up too. We need a balance.

    James Purdon wrote:

    It’s clear that black and asian citizens are being stopped and searched at a disproportionately high level.

    No one is disputing that, that’s clearly what the Cambridgeshire Police statistics show.

    James Purdon wrote:

    The reasons for that may be various, but if we were running a race-blind system, as we ought to be, the stop-and-search figures would be broadly in line across all ethnic groups per thousand head of population.

    I disagree, a race-blind system may result in stop and search disproportionately involving people of a particular race, if those of a particular race are more likely (for whatever reason) to meet the criteria which justify a stop and search.

    We’re not talking about random, or without cause, stop and searches here. There was no mention of searches under S44 of the Terrorism Act. (Only 4 were carried out by Cambridgeshire Police in the period of the statistics; Update 18/9/11: and 33 were carried out under S60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which also doesn’t require grounds for suspicion of an individual. ) We’re talking overwhelmingly about stops and searches governed by PACE Code A, a set of safeguards I’ve got an assurance Cambridgeshire Constabulary follow.

    The two key paragraphs, state:

    2.2 Reasonable grounds for suspicion depend on the circumstances in each case. There must be an objective basis for that suspicion based on facts, information, and/ or intelligence which are relevant to the likelihood of finding an article of a certain kind or, in the case of searches under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to the likelihood that the person is a terrorist. Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors. It must rely on intelligence or information about, or some specific behaviour by, the person concerned. For example, unless the police have a description of a suspect, a person’s physical appearance (including any of the ‘protected characteristics’ set out in the Equality Act 2010 (see paragraph 1.1), or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction, cannot be used alone or in combination with each other, or in combination with any other factor, as the reason for searching that person. Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in criminal activity.

    2.3 Reasonable suspicion may also exist without specific information or intelligence and on the basis of the behaviour of a person. For example, if an officer encounters someone on the street at night who is obviously trying to hide something, the officer may (depending on the other surrounding circumstances) base such suspicion on the fact that this kind of behaviour is often linked to stolen or prohibited articles being carried. Similarly, for the purposes of section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, suspicion that a person is a terrorist may arise from the person’s behaviour at or near a location which has been identified as a potential target for terrorists.

    We’re talking about searches based on those kinds of reasonable ground for suspicion, not police walking around and randomly picking on people to stop and search.

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Griffin has written to me by email. He had previously tweeted to say I could publish such a message, so here it is:

    Richard,

    I’m emailing because this has gone on for too long. The argument is getting
    boring and I think that you may actually have realised that what you were
    saying is wrong — factually and ethically — but don’t want to admit it.
    I’ve noticed on your blog that you seem intent on carrying it on, though I’m
    not sure why.

    In respect of the argument itself, if you are not going to present any
    further propositions or evidence, then I’m afraid we really must leave it.
    The things that John and I were saying were really rather simple and I think
    you’ve intentionally overlooked that. The point we are trying to make
    remains simple: it is unusual, and probably wrong, that proportionally twice
    as many black people as white people are being stopped by the police. Like
    John, I feel that stop-and-search is a flawed policy anyway, but if we are
    to persist with it then it should not target any particular race in
    particular. This seems to be the case — police are stopping more black
    people despite their not being necessarily any more criminal — and this
    worries me. One of the reasons that I called you racist (which I now regret,
    but do not withdraw) was because you seem somehow to think that black people
    are *inherently *more likely to commit crime than white people.

    I did not say that. However I did point to the prison population statistics which, given blacks are 7 times more likely to be in prison than the general population, do appear to show that racial group contains disproportionately more criminals. So, not inherently, but in our society at the moment.

    You kept
    making the point that police are simply stopping those they deem suspicious
    – which would be fine if the people they deem suspicious were not *twice as
    likely* to be black, a group who are *equally likely *to actually be
    arrested. This seems to indicate that the police at least potentially are
    stopping and searching black people because they are suspicious *because
    they are black*. And in giving your blessing to this idea, you seem to be
    again leaving yourself open to charges of racism. If not racism, then severe
    naivete — it won’t do you much good to believe that there is no possibility
    that the police do not have racist elements within them, or could not be
    racist as an institution. If you do not believe this then I can give you
    numerous examples. Does this make sense now?

    So I hope that this brings the argument to a close — if you continue to
    disagree with me, then I’m afraid we will just have to leave it there, and
    agree to disagree.

    As for how you conducted yourself in the argument — I find it strange that
    you appear to have researched into me, listing my degree and my college, as
    well as my role at Varsity (with apparently condescending and insulting
    quote marks). I’m not sure why you thought it was appropriate either to do
    this, to publish the information, or to apparently call upon my college to
    kick me out. This is your choice — I can’t do anything about it — but I’d
    recommend not doing it again if you want the debates you have on Twitter to
    remain civil.

    Your speaking about libel (and your apparent implication that you would sue
    me if you had the money) is also strange. This argument would never stand up
    in court as a defamation case. I think you know that, and wouldn’t take it
    to court if you had all the money in the world. But in any case, falsely
    summarising people’s arguments and putting them on your Twitter page (which
    matters you have more followers than me, and I do not have a blog) is not a
    reasonable response to this — arguing back with me is.

    Best,

    Andrew

  14. James Purdon

    “[T]o half the percentage of black people stopped and searched we’d presumably have to either have a quota (which after it was reached the police couldn’t stop/search any more blacks) or have a higher threshold of grounds for stopping and searching a black person.”

    You’re assuming that the threshold isn’t already lower in practice, if not in theory. The statistics would tend to suggest that assumption may not be well-founded. (41 black people per thousand black people in the population compared with 20 white people per thousand white people.)

    Given that the reasonable grounds for suspicion apply to all, and that the NFA figures are broadly the same, what do you think the reason is for the higher proportion of black people stopped and searched? Are police just poorer at processing ‘intelligence or information about, or some specific behaviour by’ people with darker skin?

  15. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Griffin has since tweeted saying:

    @RTaylorUK I’m not sure why you’re so insistent on continuing this on your blog, but I’ve emailed a response.

    I have explained, I feel the need to seek to understand and argue specifically with Mr Griffin’s points in order to defend myself against the public allegation of racism he has made against me.

    As for why I feel debating this point is important; if we get this wrong then I think we risk destabilising society, and confidence in the police, and the wider state, being lost.

    Tackling the dis-proportionality in police stop and search by changing police policies is the wrong place to do it; we need to look at why people from particular racial backgrounds are disproportionately involved in crime.

    To tackle some of the other points raised by Mr Griffin..

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    I feel that stop-and-search is a flawed policy anyway, but if we are
    to persist with it then it should not target any particular race in
    particular. This seems to be the case — police are stopping more black
    people despite their not being necessarily any more criminal — and this
    worries me

    I disagree with the conclusion that because the police are stopping disproportionately people who say they’re black this means they’re targeting a particular race. There is no hard evidence of the degree of criminality in each racial group; however given the safeguards and due process which we go through in this country before putting people in jail, I think the dis-proportionality in the prison population does show some racial groups are, in our society, do contain an higher proportion of criminals than others. I see no evidence that the stop and search rates are disproportionate due to the races of the individuals who’ve been stopped and that individual searches are not being carried out on grounds independent of race (except when it comes eg. to matching a description).

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    You kept
    making the point that police are simply stopping those they deem suspicious
    – which would be fine if the people they deem suspicious were not *twice as
    likely* to be black, a group who are *equally likely *to actually be
    arrested.

    I disagree that it’s not fine for the police to stop and search those who they have grounds to, irrespective of race, even if following that approach results in stop and search statistics with a racial make up which is disproportionate to the general population.

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    it won’t do you much good to believe that there is no possibility
    that the police do not have racist elements within them, or could not be
    racist as an institution.

    I’ve certainly heard from the police that they won’t take action against criminal travellers on the grounds they don’t want to upset community relations. That is the main direction in which I’ve heard of clear police discrimination on the basis of race in Cambridgeshire. So yes, I am open to the possibility that the police sometimes, for various reasons fail to treat everyone equally under the law, and I campaign and lobby to try and get them back on the right track.

    I think police targeting of particular racial groups without due cause is something we have to be alert to. I’ve been spent a lot of time and effort looking into Cambridgeshire Police’s use of Stop and Account. I think sampling stop and account (ie creating records in some areas for some periods), giving a simple reciept eg. an officer’s business card and with the time of the stop on it, and having officers record brief details of stops (without delaying the person) would be worth considering, particularity in areas where complaints or concerns are raised about unjustifiably disproportionate police action.

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    As for how you conducted yourself in the argument — I find it strange that
    you appear to have researched into me, listing my degree and my college, as
    well as my role at Varsity (with apparently condescending and insulting
    quote marks)

    I think it’s reasonable to read the Twitter biography, and to Google, someone who you are engaging in an discussion with. It was not me, but Andy Bower who wrote:

    @RTaylorUK @andygriffwozere Who let this moron matriculate?

    I have not called on your college to kick you out. If they were to take action I would want them to follow clear due process, but the decision would be theirs. I have commented on university and college discipline elsewhere and would suggest any further discussion on that in general takes place in the comments to another article.

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    Your speaking about libel (and your apparent implication that you would sue
    me if you had the money) is also strange. This argument would never stand up
    in court as a defamation case.

    I suspect the allegations of racism you have made would be deemed to be defamatory, and it is clear you have admitted to making them.

    I wouldn’t want to see libel law used to quash public debate, but I think there is a line between rational and reasonable debate and making defamatory comments. I think the allegation of racism crossed that line and ought not have been introduced into the debate.

    Mr Griffin wrote:

    falsely
    summarising people’s arguments and putting them on your Twitter page

    I would never wish to do that; I think the entire exchange is openly available online so anyone who cares can make their own judgements.

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    James Purdon wrote:

    You’re assuming that the threshold [for stopping an searching blacks] isn’t already lower in practice [than for whites]

    There is a slight indication in the other direction; it is whites who are more likely to be let off with no further action following a search; blacks are more likely to have something found which prompts further action. I’d suggest this shows the police are already not stopping and searching black people unless they’re a little more confident they’ll find what they’re looking for. (Though the figures are so close I think really they suggest race is not a factor).

    James Purdon wrote:

    Given that the reasonable grounds for suspicion apply to all, and that the NFA figures are broadly the same, what do you think the reason is for the higher proportion of black people stopped and searched?

    I think there may be a number of factors:
    i/ The proportion of the population who are black present in environments where people are being stopped and searched may be higher than the general population. This could for example be a higher proportion of black people within urban areas or out on the streets in the early hours.
    ii/ As I’ve said, based on the prison population figures, which I think are a strong indicator, it appears that there are disproportionately more black criminals in this country than would be expected given their proportion of the population.
    iii/ I think a greater proportion of black people are simply meeting the criteria, of reasonable suspicion, for stop and search. If there are any reasons why, beyond a correlation with the rate of criminality, which shows there is a degree of racial discrimination I hope the increased record keeping, along with Dr Ariel’s research and analysis will find out what they are and they can be eliminated.

  17. James Purdon

    You’re aware there are also disproportionately more Members of Parliament in prison in this country than would be expected given their proportion of the population? When shall we start the stopping and searching in Parliament Square?

    I jest — but only in part. I’m afraid your (i) is naked assertion, for which I’d like to see some evidence, and as for your (ii) it doesn’t prove any correlation in criminality in the population at large; it merely shows that custodial sentences are more frequently handed down to black people than to white people. (cf M.P.s)

  18. Richard Taylor Article author

    i) Is not an assertion, it is a factor I am suggesting may be relevant (It’s a potential factor the Deputy Chief Constable raised too).

    ii) I accept the comparison with the prison population isn’t perfect; but I think it’s a pretty good and relevant statistic. We have no absolute measures of the degree of criminality, either in overall or in within particular racial groups. We never will have. We have to make decisions based on the information we have; while as we are doing in this area (of reasons for stop/search), try to obtain better information we’ll never get to a position having all the information we’d like.

    As for MPs, if their crimes were of the types which typically get detected via a stop and search, then as a group I would expect them to feature disproportionately in the stop and search statistics. As it is though its crimes like burglary and robbery which are relevant, not fraud.

    There is no suggestion that in Cambridgeshire stop and search is being carried out more in areas where certain racial groups live or work. There were no maps, or geographical breakdowns (beyond Central/Southern/Northern), though in the performance report. If we had better people scrutinising the police then I suspect this would be the kind of information they might request. Again though we might find a correlation between areas where certain racial groups live and stops and searches but this wouldn’t prove a causative link.

  19. Richard Taylor Article author

    Mr Griffin, in #13, wrote

    I feel that stop-and-search is a flawed policy anyway,

    I disagree, I think its an essential power for the police to have. I find it hard to imagine how the police could effectively function without it.
    If you did outlaw stop/search on the streets, then we’d have more people getting away with crimes. The threshold for a search is much lower than for an arrest, so we couldn’t just arrest all these people (and doing so would be very expensive, and a huge unjustifiable infringement of the liberties of the majority, against whom no grounds for further action would be found when searched at the police station).

  20. James Purdon

    I can agree without demur that more data would be helpful, especially geographical data if it can be correlated with relevant census statistics. I still disagree with your interpretation of the figures as they stand. And with that, I must bow out. Thanks for engaging commenters on this. It’s an important debate, no matter how heated, and important that we continue to have it when new information such as this becomes available.

  21. Richard Taylor Article author

    One thing that’s interesting here is that some of those commenting apparently generally appear happy with the police disproportionately stopping and searching young men but appear to have an irrational and emotional opposition to the police disproportionately stopping and searching people who describe themselves as black.

    Presumably there is an acceptance that criminals involved in burglary, robbery, thefts etc. are more likely to be young men, and the conclusion drawn from statistic isn’t that the police are unreasonably targeting young men for stop and search.

    So why is it that the statistic that those describing themselves as black are twice as likely to be stopped prompts people to say it shows the police are inappropriately targeting stop and search against black people?

    I think perhaps the underlying problem here is society as a whole ditches a rational approach when it comes to certain emotive matters like racism and a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach is taken.

    Perhaps society is generally more comfortable with the idea that young men disproportionally get involved in crime and see that as inevitable whereas for where people of particular racial backgrounds are getting involved in crime, that’s an indication something’s wrong with our society, and we’re less keen on facing up to that and recognising it?

    The important thing is that those setting the strategic direction for the police do so rationally. Its interesting it was mainly the ex-civil servant appointees on the police authority who were more keen on policing policies which would artificially bring the stop and search statistics into line with the racial make up of the force area. It was elected members, principally Cllr Lucas, who reigned them in.

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    Some further notes:

    Searches in relation to Terrorism under S47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 do not feature in the table in paragraph 7.4 of the report; presumably this means there were none in Cambridgeshire during the period. S47A is the “new S44″ which requires regard to a code of practice:

    Legislation:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/631/article/3/made

    Code of practice relating to section 47A:

    http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/other/9781849874427/9781849874427.asp

    I suspect that searches carried out by the police at entrances to events, like Strawberry Fair, are not included, on the grounds these are not Stop/Search but considered consensual searches.

  23. Paul

    Thought I would write a longer response to your comment (having spoken briefly in twitter using the 140 character limit). I think the first thing when discussing crime and race is to acknowledge that it is an emotive topic. There is a long history of racism and although racism is largely rejected by most intelligent rational people unfortunately racism is still live and well in certain quarters of British society. However, this should not stop people from discussing it rational but sensitively.

    So the question comes are these figures indicative of a prejudice police force or rational judgments by the police. Probably at this point is it probably sensible to clarify what prejudice is. Being prejudice is not the same as being overly racist. I’m pretty sure that the overwhelming majority (if not all) of the police officers in the Cambridgeshire constabulary are very well intentioned and would quite justifiably offended by such allegation. However, prejudice can come in a number of subtle forms. A police officer for example when confronted with a group of loud boisterous white students may (correctly) conclude that although they are being quite annoying they are fundamentally harmless. He will do so on the basis of this own experience based on interacting with similar people throughout his life. When confronted with a similar group of black youths, he may find that he has less experience to drawn on. This may lead him to take a more skeptical view of their behaviour than its actually warranted. This probably doesn’t mean the officer in question is racist in the classic sense of the word, however, inadvertently he may have been slightly prejudice. Unfortunately such small prejudices could potentially add up and may explain at least some of the bias in stop and search numbers.

    The original article however gave the impression of discounting such an explanation and suggested that this was evidence based. The two key bits of evidence provided were: –
    - higher levels of black incarceration nationally
    - similar follow up rates from both black and white groups

    It is indeed true that there are more black people in prison as a proportion of the population than white people. However, I suspect that a disproportion number of these come from deprived boroughs of London and other big cities where there are many social problems including poor education and family breakdown. I see little evidence of significant areas like this in Cambridge where the populations are predominately black. I would therefore strongly question whether this national statistic would apply locally. Indeed, I suspect that a good number of the local black population are involved in the university and the technology sector around Cambridge and therefore not highly disposed to criminality.

    The next statistic that was quoted was about the number of people requiring further investigation. This was approximately the same for both black and white groups. Indeed it was slightly higher for the black group. This implies that the police are doing their job well and making a reasonable job of stopping the right people in both groups. However even here were need to be careful. Its probably fair to say that in any randomly sampled group there will be a small number of people in breach of the law or acting in a way that could justify “further investigation”. If we assume (for a moment) that 30% of all young people (with no racial bias) carry a small amount of drugs for personal consumption and that the majority of the “further investigation” involve such small amounts of drugs, then the police stop and search strategy would effective be as good as random but with a significant unjustified built in racial bias. I don’t believe things to be this extreme (or that 30% of young people carry drugs) but without a detailed understanding the “further investigation” that was done and the number of people in a random sample who would require “further investigation”, we should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from this statistic.

    However ultimately it could be that the evidence may justify a higher stop and search figure for black people. The early comments made a comparison with young people who are also disproportionately stopped. Therefore the next logical question is, is the evidence being applied to all groups equally.

    It would for example be interesting to have the data on stop and search number from people with other visible markers (e.g tattoos, beards etc). This would indicate whether such people are under or over represented in police stop and search number (relative to their involvement in local crime). This would be a good way to determine whether the police are: –
    - using good bayesian principles for detecting potential criminals
    - over-relying on cognitive shortcuts
    - are over-relying specifically on racial/youth prejudice (relative to other markers)

    I appreciate that this evidence may be hard to get… but in the meantime I would suggest that we cannot rule out some prejudice on the part of the police nor that they are doing their jobs well. I would suggest that in any case these figures are a cause for concern and should be investigated rationally and calmly being careful not to stoke the ingrained prejudices of a small (and fortunately decreasing) minority.

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    In a speech on the 11th of January 2016 Prime Minister David Cameron stated:

    there are more young black men in our prisons than there are studying at a Russell Group university

    This statement was widely publicised and commented on though at no time was, as far as I can see, any allegation of racism levelled against the Prime Minister for mentioning it or referring to young black men as a group.

    I’d rather we were not in a position where we even record ethnicity on stop and search forms (I’ve made this suggestion in response to a Home Office consultation, I wrote:

    I would suggest ethnicity data ought only be recorded where those overseeing the police have requested it. What is collected and recorded should in my view be tailored to any specific local concerns.

    However when we’ve got data we must not be afraid of discussing and interpreting it. Unfounded allegations of racism will deter people from taking part in those activities.

    (In total there are about 85,000 people in prison and 2.5 million people in university.)

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