Evaluating the UK College of Policing's New Stop and Search Training
The UK College of Policing implemented a stop-and-search training pilot for 100 officers in England and Wales.
An evaluation by RAND Europe, Oxford, and Hebrew University found the training to have been well received. Changes in communication could improve the results if the programme is implemented more broadly.
Photo by Brian Jackson/Fotolia
In 2014 the UK College of Policing entered into a partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to develop new National Policing Curriculum (NPC) learning standards on stop and search, and to design related learning materials. This was primarily in response to a series of reports on problems identified with the use of stop and search powers by police in England and Wales.
The College, in consultation with the EHRC and police stakeholders, developed a training intervention that was piloted across six police forces in England from August 2015 through December 2015. The piloting was undertaken with the intention of informing and supporting a national roll-out of the training to all officers in England and Wales from 2016/17, and to develop an evidence base around ‘what works’ in improving stop and search practice and the use of the relevant powers.
The training pilot was implemented as a randomised controlled trial (RCT), whereby approximately 100 officers from each participating force were assigned at random to the ‘treatment’ group (i.e. they were given the training), while another 100 officers were assigned at random to a control group.
The College commissioned RAND Europe, along with researchers at Oxford University and Hebrew University Jerusalem, to carry out a process evaluation to examine the ‘treatment’ side of the RCT, looking at training implementation issues, perceptions of key stakeholders and trainers, and behaviour and experiences of trained officers.
The process evaluation aimed to answer six research questions:
- Was the intervention delivered as intended?
- What were the main implementation issues?
- To what extent did peers, supervisors, middle managers and senior leaders act as a facilitator or barrier to change?
- How was the training course perceived by officers, and how did it reportedly influence their stop and search practices?
- Did trained officers appear to apply their learning in practice and, if so, how?
- How did the police and public interact during encounters after the training, and what factors were associated with better quality encounters?
The first three questions broadly examined the implementation issues and perceptions of those involved in the pilot. The final two questions examined the behaviour of trained officers subsequent to the training.
The process evaluation used six main methods to answer questions surrounding implementation and perceptions of the training. These were:
- Observations of training sessions;
- In-depth interviews with force-level trainers and project leads;
- A survey of force-level trainers;
- In-depth interviews with national-level training designers and project stakeholders in the design of the training package, and;
- In-depth interviews with officers who have received the training, and;
- Feedback sheets provided by officers immediately after completing training.
To examine questions around officer behaviour, the evaluation used a systematic social observation (SSO) approach involving quantitative coding and qualitative narratives of treatment-group officers’ activities during patrol shifts.
- The interviews with national stakeholders and training designers identified that there was general agreement on high-level goals of the training, which broadly speaking were thought to be to improve stop and search practice. However, how these goals were to be achieved in practice lacked clarity.
- Most trainers across all forces expressed positive opinions about the value of the course and saw potential value in the training for improving practice. Nonetheless, a number of implementation issues were identified both in the process leading up to training delivery and in the content of the training.
- A number of communication issues were identified in relation to the ways in which treatment group officers heard about the training from their supervisors or senior officers. While most forces appeared to have made efforts to clearly communicate the purpose of the training to officers, in at least two forces' officers arrived at training believing that the training was meant for ‘problem officers’ or that they had been selected due to poor performance, rather than randomly.
- Officers were mostly positive about the format of the training and quality of trainers and felt in particular that the scenario-based exercises exploring reasonable grounds were helpful and thought-provoking.
- Some officers reported that the training had prompted them to conduct fewer searches. This was partially attributed to the change to the level of grounds that were required for a search (i.e. the shift from ‘reasonable suspicion’ to ‘genuine belief’). However, this reported reduction could not be attributed to the training alone.
- In the observed stop and search encounters, officers appeared to follow the correct process in most cases.