I believe the “stop and account” form used by the police isn’t working and in my view is damaging to the relationship between the public and the police.
The way the form is used affects the nature of an encounter between the police and a member of the public. I attended a local community meeting, (to which the police sent a PCSO), in the Meadows Community Centre, Arbury, North Cambridge last night and about half the two hour meeting was taken up discussing the excessive, and improper use of “stop and search” and “stop and account” in our local area.
I have been stopped for looking over a fence, others at the meeting reported being stopped for “wearing gloves”, and “wearing a hood”. As when the police have stopped someone they have to give a reason on the record form, ludicrous things like this are ending up on the forms and the police are being made to look ridiculous, and people feel they have been stopped unreasonably.
Concerns were raised by parents whose children were picking up lots of these forms, and thereby gaining long entries on police intelligence databases. Parents, and others were reporting that youngsters were fearful of the police and running away when approached even if they had not done anything wrong because they did not want to pick up yet another form. People also reported their names, addresses and ID being requested by the police, when they have no powers to demand them when conducting a stop and account, as the fields “Name” and “Address” are on the form it is difficult to refuse. Refusal to give a name and address results in the police asking why you’re not giving your name and address – an argument few are prepared to have with the police on the street.
Stop and Account being carried out by plain clothes officers was highlighted as a particularly frighting experience, particularly for children, a parent complained about their daughter being required to give her names, address and age to plain clothes police. The police are stopping children on their way home from school, it is a horrible reflection on the current state of policing that “Don’t talk to strangers” has to come with a caveat of “But you might be asked to account for your actions by plain clothes police”.
A few at the meeting complained about stop and account being carried out, and no forms issued, the PCSO admitted that while generally forms were issued sometimes they were not, making the whole exercise a farce.
There are also, in my view, problems with respect to the ethnicity monitoring aspects of the form, a number of incidents have been publicised on police camera action and similar TV shows where asking these questions prompts black or Asian British people responding something to the effect of: “I’m just British”. When people are stopped for such silly things as wearing gloves or looking over a fence they might wonder if they’ve been stopped just to balance the ethnicity statistics.
Another problem with the form as it is, in Cambridgeshire, is that the receipt element does not include the person who has been stopped’s explanation for their actions.
I have been able to find out from my local police that the paper record of the stop and account form will be kept by them for 10 years (which I feel is excessive), however they will not tell me how long any computerised database will hold information about the fact I have been stopped, and I suspect the reason for that maybe that they intend to keep such records indefinitely.