Knowledge Exchange Network: procedural justice – learnings for and from policing

Since 2020, we have been partnering with Police Foundation to run the Knowledge Exchange Network, a space for police officers to come together to share learning, knowledge and practice with their peers.

Our latest KEN session held on 18th July focussed on procedural justice, i.e. how to make the process of policing fairer and more equitable. This is a particularly timely topic given how issues of trust and confidence and disproportionality are becoming an increasingly salient topic both within policing and amongst the communities they police.  This session looked at disproportionality within stop and search, and some of the ways in which this is being measured in different force areas.

The session started with an insightful presentation from Dan Popple, who is a Police Inspector at West Midlands Police and leads on the force’s diversion & inclusion and community work. Facing evidence of disproportionality and community mistrust surrounding the use of stop and search at the national level, West Midlands Police took the initiative to try to better understand the experiences of those subjected to this practice in their area, aiming to improve accountability and engagement with the communities they serve. Insp. Popple shared the innovative stop and search QR code survey initiative that their force had implemented to collect community feedback on instances of stop and search, with a focus on fairness and respect. Initially, the survey was distributed through business cards and stickers on the backs of officers’ phones, but there were low response rates, particularly from individuals who were non-compliant during the search. To address this, West Midlands Police integrated QR codes into their stop and search app, conveniently placed just below the receipt number given out when someone is stopped and searched. This change significantly increased survey participation, albeit with some racial and age disproportionalities.

Early analysis of the survey results revealed that young people were less likely to think the police officer acted fairly when conducting the stop and search. There are also indications that the most common reason for not being satisfied with the stop and search was because the reasons for the stop were not explained thoroughly enough. These are just initial findings, but they provide valuable insights for further research and analysis. Insp. Popple also spoke about the survey acting as a tool of procedural justice itself, as it proved to be a constructive way for officers to engage with communities and build trust by giving those they police the opportunity to voice their opinions, whilst also acting as a de-escalation tool. Crucially, the pilot’s development involved consultations with community reference groups, police officers, and legal professionals, which contributed to disseminating the survey more widely and making it more accessible to the target audience. The survey was notably short and concise, improving completion rates.

Following the presentation, engaging discussions ensued among the audience, touching on vital topics such as preventing self-selection by officers when offering the survey and the potential extension of the survey to capture existing experiences and attitudes towards policing, and any changes to community relations resulting from the intervention.

We then heard from Ron Lock, Detective Superintendent at the National Police Chiefs Council and Community Engagement and Relations Workstream Co-ordinator. DSU Lock shared the results of his research on stop and search in Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary. DSU Lock aimed to compare experiences of stop and search between Black and White people across the four dimensions of procedural justice – voice, neutrality/explanation, respect, and trustworthiness. Through an analysis of body-worn camera footage, combined with data on race, policing districts, time of searches, and the gender of officers, DSU Lock calculated specific procedural justice scores for 120 stop and search incidents across three local areas within Hampshire and Isle of Wight constabulary – 60 searches of Black people and 60 of White people. The benefit of this approach is that the fairness of stop and searches was not assessed by the person subject to the stop, which can help provide an element of independence. The findings highlighted significant racial disparities, with Black people experiencing up to 21% lower procedural justice scores. Additionally, the use of force, particularly the use of handcuffs, was more prevalent against Black people.

While there was a disparity in procedural justice scores for Black people when compared to White people, these varied significantly depending on the area in which the stop and search occurred. When asked what the reasons for this might be, DSU Lock suggested that the areas that performed better had much more embedded community engagement action with minority communities, such as the existence of youth advocates or police officers doing specific work with young people. The findings may also indicate cultural differences between force areas which may be driven by things like the age of officers.

The research also showed that stops which were requested, for example following a 999 call, as opposed to random stop-and-searches, were more likely to have higher procedural justice scores. Supporting cultural change and fostering horizontal movement across forces were discussed as potential options that could improve the procedural fairness of stop and searches. Overall, the event highlighted the power of collaboration and community engagement, inspiring attendees to bring evidence-based best practice back to their respective forces. As we reflect on the event’s success, we are reminded that the pursuit of procedural justice is a collective responsibility – a shared journey where learning, knowledge sharing and innovation drive positive change in policing, making policing fairer and more equitable for everyone, and ultimately contributing to safer and more cohesive communities.