Bedfordshire’s stop and search community scrutiny panel has two new vice chairs. Hina Shafi and Martin White took on the roles last month.
Set up in 2015, the stop and search community scrutiny panel is made up of lay volunteers and holds Bedfordshire Police to account for its use of stop and search powers. A similar panel, focused on the use of force, was set up in July 2020.
Bedfordshire’s stop and search panel has received praise for its traffic light system for assessing incidents and was the first in the country to use its powers to refer officers for misconduct in use of stop and search powers.
Hina Shafi has a BA (hons) in Sports Development and Physical Education and a background in sports, mental health, policy and community engagement.
Hina has ‘worked to raise awareness and reduce the impact of knife crime’ through a social action campaign.
Martin White is a retired lawyer, former police officer and current team leader at a COVID vaccination centre.
In 2009 he became an officer in the Bedfordshire Special Constabulary, advancing to sergeant and tutor level. Martin has also been stopped and searched several times and provided legal advice to clients on the process.
Hina said the panel is making a ‘significant difference’, adding:
“The overwhelming majority of Officers are keen to hear from the panel members and take our recommendations on board.
“On the community side many people are keen to understand their rights and to know how stop and search should be conducted. Our panel members learn a lot just by attending our meetings.”
Martin said that since joining the Bedfordshire panel he’d seen improved police training and greater officer compliance with stop and search law and guidance. However, there’s ‘still a long way to go and a lot more work to be done’.
The panel’s chair, Montell Neufville, said:
“I’m really pleased that we have two very passionate people with a wealth of experience in their own specialist areas, who can support me and the rest of the panel in being critical friends of the police helping to ensure our officers act with honesty, with respect and with impartiality.
“Our new vice chairs will help to ensure we have greater transparency which in itself will build trust and confidence between the police and the community we represent.”
Since May, a digital change has been brought in requiring Bedfordshire police officers to confirm if body worn video (BWV) was used during stop and search. Any BWV footage is now also retained on the system for three months.
Mr Neufville said that when the panel does its independent auditing this month they will find out if the updated system is ‘both live and working effectively’.
Home Office data released last autumn indicated that Bedfordshire Police had the lowest stop and search rate per 1,000 of members of the black community of all police forces in England and Wales.
However, black people were still 2.9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
Overall, Bedfordshire officers carried out 3,476 stop and searches from March 2019-March 2020, a 53% (rounded to nearest percentage) increase on the previous year.