Anti-police. What does that actually mean? On Tuesday 17 March I attended an event at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Diane Abbott MP and organised by StopWatch, an organisation that works to promote effective, fair and accountable policing. Committee Room 14 was packed. People care about stop and search.
There was understandable scepticism from StopWatch members about the Best Use of Stop Search Scheme, introduced last year. More data recording; practically outlawing no-suspicion stop search powers; doing something when people complain (people hardly ever complain about police actions - why not? - have you ever tried?); having a ride-along scheme so people might see a stop search 'for real'.
Many people at the event had already seen a stop search for real. They'd been stopped themselves, some of them many times. That's why there were there. One young man had been stopped that day (the officers didn't find anything - he wasn't carrying anything!). Some felt recent reforms don't go far enough. Others, myself included believe they are a step in the right direction but it's taken far too long, and this Home Secretary to initiate even these baby steps. They are just the start of a journey, not the end of it.
"Scrap it" said others. What do we replace it with, in actual, real, practical terms? One suggestion was to replace it with 'fair policing'. I couldn't agree more that fair policing and policing that is seen to be fair is crucial but fair policing doesn't mean scrapping stop search powers altogether. Yes, they've been misused. Yes, reform is necessary. Yes, there should be REAL consequences when stop search powers are abused.
But people do commit crime, and sometimes (although not as often as the police think), using stop search powers catches people with weapons, guns, stashes of drugs or your, recently stolen, mobile phone. And sometimes (although not as often as the police think), using stop search powers means that a genuine fear or suspicion about someone is allayed without that person going through the painful process of arrest, detention, fingerprints, DNA samples (that are retained) and an unnecessary, distressing period of time in a cell. As well as a record that shows that they were once 'arrested' regardless of the outcome. We need to build an evidence base on stop search so that it's used effectively, but simply scrapping it won't work.
"Cannabis searches are lazy policing" declared a long-time stop search campaigner from Haringey. I'm inclined to agree and the debate about why over 50% of all stop searches are carried out for street possession of (usually) cannabis for personal use will rumble on, although without much vigour until after 7 May.
Others talked about trauma. Fear. Others highlighted the unequal treatment they had experienced or seen with their own eyes.
What was most stark in Committee Room 14 though was the reaction of some to those sharing their genuine, recent experiences.
I tweeted "It's clear to see that #stopsearch is such an incredibly divisive issue. Some people are clapping the speeches. Others remain stoney-faced." It didn't take nearly 30 years of police experience to detect body language that showed people uncomfortable, agitated and annoyed by hearing that the police don't always get the use of stop search right and that sometimes it's used unfairly.
I got to my feet and pointed out that having this uncomfortable conversation is important. For sure, the police need to hear it - I think there may have been one other police officer there but there were no other overt police contributions on the night. And I pointed out to the stoney-faced, non-clapping few that only people living on another planet can think that race isn't an issue in relation to stop search. I guess if the issue doesn't touch you or your friends or colleagues or family it might be a bit like being on another planet.
What concerned me most though was this. Apparently after my speech in Committee Room 14 I am 'just as bad as them, an anti. Anti-police'. I'm not sure who 'they' are although I have a good idea. 'They' are the people who, when innocently going about their business, as they are entitled to do under all the laws and freedoms we hold so dear, challenge the fact that that freedom is sometimes curtailed. Sometimes, although admittedly not always, but sometimes unnecessarily, unlawfully, discriminatorily.
What makes them 'anti-police' (apparently) is that they challenge the misuse of those powers, sometimes emotionally, sometimes robustly, often persistently because they see that things haven't changed or they're not changing quickly enough. They're not waiting 30 years, they're raising it now, because it is happening now.
If that's what makes someone anti-police then I, like 'them', am guilty as charged.