One comment/update on “Improving the Mechanism for Setting Police Priorities in Cambridge

  1. Richard Article author

    During the evening following the meeting I wrote to Mr Fuller, enclosing the response I had received on the subject of stop and account from Mr Hill of the Police.

    Mr Fuller,

    Below is the email which I received from Jeff Hill of the Police in response to my questions about the way stop and account / encounters are handled in Cambridgeshire.

    As you can see he has not explained how the new procedure is compliant with the law, he has not justified, or even confirmed, keeping records indefinitely, and has made no comment on the appropriateness of justifying stop and account on a trivial basis such as wearing gloves, or on its use against children by plain clothes officers.

    At Cambridge City Council’s North Area committee meeting on the 17th of April 2008 Sector Inspector Jon Hutchinson told the meeting that the “All Stops” or “Encounter” form was no longer used in Cambridge.

    PCSO Streeter confirmed to a meeting at the Meadows community centre, Arbury, Cambridge on the 22nd of April that the stop and account form had been discontinued in Cambridge, except if the person being stopped requests a form. He said that unless the full form is requested all that the person being asked to account for their actions will receive is the number of the officer who stopped them.

    It is in my view unlikley that either the PCSOs version, or the version given by Jeff Hill is compliant with PACE code A section 4.17 which requires the following to be part of the record: (i) the date, time and place of the encounter ; (ii) if the person is in a vehicle, the registration number ; (iii) the reason why the officer questioned that person; (iv) a note of the person’s self-defined ethnic background;(v) the outcome of the encounter. Section 4.12 of PACE code A states: “When an officer requests a person in a public place to account for themselves, i.e. their actions, behaviour, presence in an area or possession of anything, a record of the encounter must be completed at the time and a copy given to the person who has been questioned. The record must identify the name of the officer who has made the stop and conducted the encounter”

    My concern that the current procedure is not compliant with the law has not been dealt with, I expect and hope the current procedure is legal and would be very surprised if it was not given that similar trials are taking place in a wide range of places across the country.

    On the subject of how long the information is held I am not happy with the response from Jeff Hill. The Management of Police Information Guidance he refers to states:

    “The type and amount of information held on an individual must not be excessive and must be proportionate to the risk they pose to the community;”

    What risk do those who’ve been stopped in North Cambridge for looking over fences, wearing gloves or wearing hoods pose to the community, how is keeping paper records of such stop and account events for 10 years (as stated by Sgt. Wragg to the Cambridge City Council’s North Area Committee), and keeping the electronic record for an unspecified period of time not excessive?

    I found it shocking when there was a national debate on whether the police should be able to “stop and account” people for no reason that in North Cambridge plain clothes police were stopping schoolchildren on their way home from school, with the reason for the stop being given as “wearing gloves” or “wearing a hat”.

    Police stopping people, asking them to account for their actions appears to me to be a really common way for people to come into contact with the police, so I think that ensuring that the process is properly handled is critical to maintaining a positive impression of the police in the eyes of the public.

    Finally I was angered by your suggestion that I had been using the North Area Committee meeting to raise a personal / individual point by asking questions on Stop and Account at the meeting. I do have personal experience of being stopped by the police and being asked to account for my actions; however I brought it to the area committee only after becoming convinced that there were widespread problems with the way the procedure was being handled and latterly having seen the issue being bought up repeatedly at community meetings in the North Area.

    I feel these questions on the stop and account procedure are straightforward and ought be answered on the police’s website. I have sought improvements but the police’s response has been to simply remove all mention of stop and account / encounters from the stop and search page, although it still links to a now inaccurate leaflet.

    The trial is presumably shortly going to come to an end; making the timely question now – who will review the results and make a decision as to if the form is to be permanently discontinued?

    Richard Taylor

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