BCU Borough Commander Answers Questions

The Basic Command Unit (BCU) Borough Commander visited our Youth Justice Service on 30/10/23, and answered questions by young people about policing in Hackney. Here were the questions asked by the young people and responses received from the Borough Commander.

Why does it take so long to get seized property back from the police?

There is legislation that allows police to keep property for the purpose of an investigation. Police have to download large amounts of data from mobile phones/electronic devices because they need detailed evidence to prove that a person did/did not commit a crime.

The way to obtain information about what is happening with property seized by police as evidence is to contact the Officer In the Case (OIC) (i.e. the officer leading on the investigation) who logs information related to the investigation, including property being examined as evidence, in CRIS reports (this is an internal police process) and assign property numbers and locations where/timeline for how long an item is being kept.

Unfortunately due to staffing changes, getting information on seized propertythis is sometimes challenging to do but Youth Justice Service staff and Youth Justice Service police can help children and families in identifying new Officers In the Case as needed and help following up.

Our local police team cover Hackney and Tower Hamlets and are not able, unfortunately, to follow up property seized and held in other areas. You can make a complaint which will be directed to the appropriate police team. If you do have property seized in Hackney or Tower Hamlets and feel this has been held unfairly or for too long a period, this should be discussed with your Youth Justice Officer and/or Youth Justice police officers and escalated.

Property may also be seized from victims and family members, in order to gather evidence for the crime committed. The same process should be followed to contact the Officer in the Case, for an update. If no response is given, you should make a complaint.

Why do police give out cautions or punishments without taking everyone’s side of the story into account? My neighbour would always call the police on me and my friends but they would never ask for our side of the story.

Police officers should make efforts to engage with witnesses and other involved parties when investigating a crime. Their aim is to discover whether there is truth to an allegation. If you think this is not the case and you have been treated unfairly, you can raise this with your Youth Justice Officer or make a complaint (see complaint section).

There are very limited circumstances where the police give out a punishment directly. Generally the police investigate and it is then up to the Courts to decide both whether someone is guilty and what punishment they should receive. They do this after testing the evidence submitted, which includes reviewing whether the police have made enquiries about ‘the other side of the story’ from the person who has been accused of a crime and any defence submitted.

There are generally only two cases where this would not be the case, and where the police could be seen to directly punish a person outside of a Court process. These are Community Resolutions and Cautions. Community resolutions are an Out of Court Disposal which allows officers to directly assign some form of restorative action to a person as an alternative to criminal prosecution in order to deal with minor crimes. Similarly, a Caution is a formal Out of Court Disposal that may be given by the police for any offence where there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, but it is not in the public interest to prosecute. A Caution is effectively a warning not to commit the same offence again. Conditions can be attached to Cautions which require an offender to meet certain requirements or be prosecuted. In both cases, these can only be used where there is a clear and unambiguous admission of guilt from the suspect. In order for Community Resolutions or Cautions to be given to young people they need to have a parent, guardian or other responsible adult with them in order to make sure they understand the process.

Sometimes the police may refer young people to other services or authorities and those agencies may decide to issue some form of sanction, but at that stage the responsibility for investigating the matter and determining what actions to take is with the agency to whom the referral has been made. The two main examples would be Anti Social Behaviour warnings, which are issued by the Local Authority, and School Behavioural Contracts which are set by Schools.

Police keep extending my Bail which impacts on my mental health. Is it acceptable to keep extending Bail and how long could I have this offence hanging over me?

The length of investigations and long Bail periods are due to various factors. In the English legal system, there is no legal definition of how long an investigation can be open for.

All enquiries related to the progress of an investigation, should also be directed through the Officer In the Case (OIC). Youth Justice Service staff and Youth Justice Service police can also support children under investigation in identifying OIC contact details and follow up on their behalf with consent if there are any concerns/queries.

Why do I, the Black boy, get picked out by Police for a Stop and Search every time for fitting a description, but not my white friends?

The rates of Stop & Search in Hackney have declined by 20% in the last 12 months (data shared on 30/10/23). Police in Hackney are conscious of disproportionate levels of Stop & Search especially for Black and Global Majority children and Hackney police are focusing work to look at data to see where disproportionality exists and where/how to tackle it.

There is a long way to go, and some resistance, to this work, but the Police are committed to identifying and addressing racist and discriminatory practices. They are putting in place a workstream to look at different aspects of improvement around Stop & Search, and hope this will lead to a difference in experience of young people of Stop & Search.

The police are also doing more analysis of the types of crimes committed in Hackney and prioritising those crimes that cause the most harm i.e. rapes and other crimes of violence against women and girls, shootings, stabbings and targeting the organised crime that drives child criminal exploitation and the drugs markets.

Do you think Stop and Search is good for the youth? I have been arrested and kept in cells four times, all of them have been NFA’d. I have never committed a crime. Where do police get the information they need to arrest me?

There are different situations when Stop and Search might be used. In some situations, if used well, it can be an effective policing tactic, but the police know that improvements need to be made in the way Stop and Search is carried out.

There are differences between routine Stop and Search, searches where police are looking for a specific suspect, during Section 60s, and when police are responding to an emergency call from the public. The response or tactic for each of these might be very different and lead to very different interactions. There would also be a variety of different reasons that would then escalate to an arrest. You should always be told clearly why you are being searched, and why you are being arrested, but each situation will be different.

Why is the first interaction with the police always so negative? I was hit off my bike! If an officer caught my attention I would have stopped.

Police have a legal right to use reasonable force in some situations, especially for the protection of life. For example, a police team may strategically stop a suspect riding a bike with the use of force (including knocking someone off a bike), if there is a direct witness account of possession of a firearm.

Police have to justify their use of force and what tactic is deployed e.g. pointing a gun, tasering but this also can escalate an interaction. The use of force must be proportional (appropriate to the situation / danger to life) and this is an area that the police get complaints about from children and adults saying they have experienced disproportionate use of force – so the police service knows they are not always getting this right. If you believe that excess force was used in a stop, you should complain.

Many police officers deployed in Hackney are young and not from Hackney, they did not grow up in Hackney and may have stereotypical views of children and may adultify black children. The local Borough Commander’s team are working on further training and guidance for officers to address this and adultification awareness training is now provided to all new police officers as well as established officers in Hackney.

We are working with Youth Providers and schools in Hackney to provide more opportunities for positive interaction between young people and the police, so that there is a chance to build mutual understanding of the challenges that young people face living and studying in Hackney, and the challenges that officers also face in their work.

Why do they take advantage of their power? For example, speaking to us rudely, throwing a bike at me

Police Officers should not take advantage of their powers, they are expected to treat all people with respect. There will be times when police officers need to use a limited level of force to protect the public and police officers but this should always be proportional (please see details given above).

The Borough Commander is specifically looking at making improvements to Stop and Search (S&S) in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, working with community partners for insight, advice and to develop training. They are looking at ways of reducing the need for use of force, during S&S, through improved understanding of data on where force is currently being used, and in improved training and tactics for officers.

An officer should never ‘throw a bike’ at a young person in a general interaction / Stop and Search. Please report any incidents urgently as a complaint.

When are police allowed to search a property? Are they allowed to search the whole property / search for anything, or do they have to be specific?

Search of property needs to be authorised by a senior officer, but police can force entry to a property if they think there is a danger to life and limb.

If police are executing a Search Warrant for something specific (eg stolen property) but come across drugs or weapons they also have a duty to investigate these.