The questions began. Detective Millichap said that, as Borough Commander, she had the power to check who was being arrested, and by which police officer. If she found that a certain officer was frequently arresting a particular group, for example young black males, and there appeared to be no reason for the trend other than their skin colour, then she would talk to the officer. She would question if the officer really did need to issue an arrest, or if they were being discriminatory.
We discussed ways in which the police could get to know the community, such as helping to support other initiatives that keep young people off the streets and out of crime. One member of the Youth Council is from Haringey Hawks, a basketball team that allows young people to learn and succeed in a sport, instead of being involved in crime.
Detective Millichap explained that the police couldn’t support a project like Haringey Hawks financially, given the cuts to policing. However, they could spread the word about them, and the police could even play a basketball match against young people in Haringey!
I asked how the police supported young people with autism and mental health issues. A youth council member mentioned knowing a friend with autism who was stopped and searched who found the experience very stressful. What may appear as a young person being uncooperative, could actually be a young person trying to move away from the stress.
Detective Millichap admitted that she hadn’t thought of this. However, she said that when a police officer realises that the person they want to speak to may have autism or mental health issues, or if they are under 18, they are taken to a police station and their parents are notified. Hopefully then the situation can be dealt with calmly. Detective Millichap admitted more needed to be done to support young people with autism, if they did go to trial.
To my surprise, some members of the Haringey Youth Council explained that they had been stopped and searched. They weren’t told the reasons why they were stopped, only that they ‘matched a description’ of a person who had committed a crime.
To explore the ethics and responsibilities involved in stop-and-search, the Haringey Youth Council participated in ‘reverse stop and search’ – a role play where the young people searched the police!
We had to find the metal spoons or cotton – a replacement for knives and drugs – hidden in the police officers’ uniforms. We were told that people in black jackets had been seen with these items. Both the policemen matched the description.
The young people who had been through stop and search went first. They reflected on their own experience, approaching the police and loudly informing them they had powers under the ‘Something-Something Act’ to detain them. Continuing to be intrusive, they asked whether the police could take off their shoes, patting their clothes to check for the objects, all without warning.
It turned out that one of the policemen being searched was innocent – the other one had a spoon in his pocket.
The police told us that if they want to stop and search us, they are obliged to approach calmly and give proof of their identity (by showing their warrant card), as well as stating their name and police station. They also have to tell you exactly what you are being detained for, what your rights are, and written record of the search, as proof that it happened.
Yet, police are humans, and sometimes ‘get it wrong’. However, this is no excuse, as they are fully trained.
Reverse stop and search is becoming more popular as an education tool. Young people learn why the police have to search people, and why the police need to act with a certain degree of suspicion and authority, as the person may be carrying a weapon.
Hopefully this tool can also be used to help the police realise their stop and searches affect real people. They shouldn’t stigmatise or think that everyone will react in the same way. They should give people, particularly young people, the information and respect they need.
Exposure also interviewed Detective Millichap for Exposure’s project – I’m Inspired.
For more information about how stop and search should and shouldn’t go, see Exposure’s short film ‘Fed Up’. It offers advice on how young people and the police can get along a little better.
Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice. Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.