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Thames Valley Police launches new Race Action Plan scrutiny board

Byoxfordnewspaper

Oct 13, 2022

THE CHAIRMAN of a new Thames Valley Police race action plan scrutiny board said the force needed to ‘immediately make a dent in the stop and search events’.

Calvin Wilson, a former senior Crown prosecutor, called for a ‘national conversation’ across the criminal justice system about its ‘treatment of the black community’.

The Trinidad and Tobago-born barrister will head-up Thames Valley Police’s new Independent Scrutiny and Oversight Board, responsible for helping to develop the force’s Race Action Plan and holding senior officers to account on how it is being delivered.

The regional group mirrors the structure set up nationally by the College of Policing and National Police Chiefs’ Council, with an oversight board chaired by criminal barrister Abimbola Johnson. The national Police Race Action Plan was published in May, setting out plans to address ‘significantly lower’ trust and confidence in the policing.

Mr Wilson will be responsible for recruiting members to the Thames Valley scrutiny board.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail, he said: “There’s a need to re-calibrate the trust and confidence the black community has in the police.

“We have to immediately make a dent in the stop and search events. The ones that are not productive. The ones that occur where no further action is taken. The ones that cause lots of trauma – long-lasting trauma – to young black men and women. That is, for me, the most important task.”

Figures published last year showed that in the Thames Valley, black people were 4.4 times more likely to be stopped than white people, compared to 4.9 in 2019-20.

Mr Wilson described strip searching of ‘young black men’ as a ‘burning issue that’s unaddressed’ and one that required ‘explanation’ by the police.

Assistant Chief Constable Dennis Murray, whose own family were subjected to racist attacks and policing, is responsible for developing the Thames Valley Race Action Plan.

He was recruited into the force earlier this year from the British Transport Police, where he overhauled its collection of data on stop and search. He said it allowed senior officers to explain exactly how the tactic was used and why.

The officer – one of the most senior ethnic minority police officers in the country – plans to reform Thames Valley’s systems in a similar way.

“We need to reform our data framework so that, actually, when we’ve got something that’s disproportionate we can either explain why that disproportionality is disproportionate but legitimate or it’s disproportionate, it’s not acceptable and this is what we’re doing about it,” he said.

Currently, the data did not record whether stops where no drugs or weapons were found had positive ‘secondary outcomes’, such as establishing the individual was a missing person. Similarly, disproportionality was not calculated based on the proportion of individuals from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups in the immediate local area.

The force is also working with the College of Policing and NPCC to understand the proportionality of road traffic stops, Mr Murray said. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Metropolitan Police was scrapping an initiative to record the ethnicity of drivers who are stopped by officers. The Met officers claimed recording race took too long and they were unaware of drivers’ colour before stopping them.

Mr Murray said he hoped the new independent scrutiny board, which will work alongside the force’s Stop and Search Independent Advisory Group, would be a ‘critical friend’ and help inform Thames Valley Police’s approach through ‘healthy challenge and critique’.

Since joining the Thames Valley force, Mr Murray said he had directly approached minority communities like Somalian and Congolese groups in Milton Keynes that previously had limited interaction with the police.

“These communities aren’t hard to reach. We have been trying to reach them and policing UK as well in a way that suits policing rather than in a way that suits the community,” he said.

“They want to engage with us but they want us to engage with them in a way that works for them as well as us.

“We need to adapt and find new ways of working with these communities, not just assume if we put something on Twitter that’s going to reach all the community.”

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward