Empowerment Knowledge

STOP and SEARCH, is it an effective tool used by the Police to prevent crime or is it used to discriminate against the BAME community?

The Metropolitan Police announced that they had given Police Officers the powers to stop and search individuals under section 60 during the 2018 Notting Hill Carnival they say that they based the enhanced powers on the recent spate of violence in the capital and intelligence that they had received.  

Stop and search is extremely controversial, in particularly within various BAME communities because of the disproportionate number of black and Asian people stopped. 

I attended the carnival and could not believe the number of black men and boys that were stopped and searched by the police.  It was frustrating and heart breaking to say the least because many of the young boys did not have anything illegal on them but felt humiliated because they were cornered, draped up by the police and treated like thugs. I was told by a reveller that it was probably because they were in groups however, they were not the only ethnicity in groups at the carnival and everyone else seemed to be able to enjoy themselves freely and without the threat of being stopped by the police.  In addition to this, an acquaintance shared a video of her brother being stopped and searched by the Police in front of his partner and although she was asking relevant questions about their reasons for searching him they ignored her and him.  This resulted in the incident escalating and the young man being detained however, what was interesting was the Police later admitted they did not know why he was stopped and searched. 

I understand the times we are in; there is a lot of youth crime and ‘black on black’ violence (another topic to be discussed at a later date) however, are BAME people the only ones committing crime?  Are we the only ones considered to be a direct threat to the community?  I absolutely had no clue what section 60 meant and what our rights as BAME people are if we are stopped and searched, therefore I decided to find out and share my knowledge with you………

The London murder rate has excelled during 2018 with a total of 100 murders (at the time of writing this); most of these murders have been connected with gang related, youth violence and knife crime.  Overall, the murder rate in London has reduced over the last decade as figures show that there were 172 murders in 2006 compared to 134 in 2017 (of which 12 were related to terrorism).  However, although the murder rate has somewhat reduced figures also show that three quarters of male murder victims under the age of 34 died from some form of knife crime.

These stats have echoed the idea  that there is a major problem and something needs to be done; with sensational headlines from the media incorrectly suggesting that London had more murders than New York, this has increased the debate amongst MP’s, the London Mayor and the Metropolitan Police with each faction apportioning the blame on the other about who is accountable and what can be done to reduce the violence. 

Due to the 2012 austerity measures the then Home Secretary Theresa May cut the number of police officers, staff and PCSOs from 134,101 to 124,006 nationally, with the Metropolitan Police losing 7.8% of officers from 32,441 to 29,924 during this time (which is the lowest number of officers in service recorded in the last 15 years).  This has further been sited by the Metropolitan Police Commander, Cressida Dick; who confirmed that there is a reduction of the ratio of officers per 1,000 Londoners, from 4.1 officers per 1,000 Londoners in 2010 to 3.3 officers per 1,000 Londoners by 2016/17.  As a consequence, serious crime has increased with the murder rate augmented to 44%, gun crime 23% and rape 18%. Based on the stats and with an additional £600million of public funding from the London Mayor, this is one of the key factors used by City Hall to justify the surge of violence in the capital.

Although, the stats show we have a rising epidemic on our hands, there are a number of recommendations of how best to manage and reduce crime however, it appears that it is all disjointed and not aligned.  Each local authority is using their own strategy and there are a number of youth programs available, but due to limited funding they are cash strapped and their outreach work is restricted.  Nevertheless, the most popular solution amongst the media, police, (some) MP’s and London Mayor is to re-introduce a vigorous stop and search. 

Stop and search laws have always proved controversial due to the disproportionate numbers of BAME people who are affected by these practices and as a consequence of heightened mistrust and anxiety has resulted in a strain in the relationship between the police and BAME communities.  During the ‘sus’ law there were a high percentage of BAME individuals who were continuously stopped and search and this is said to be a major contributor to the Brixton riots in 1981.

Stop and search was introduced in 1984 under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and was a replacement to the ‘sus’ law – which allowed police to stop individuals if they ‘suspect’ an individual of committing a crime.  In addition to section 1 PACE law, the Police can also stop individuals who they suspect have controlled drugs under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The second type of stop and search laws is the section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 whereby senior Police Officers or a chief Constable can authorize that individuals can be stopped and searched without suspicion either because of the geographical location and/or if they believe that violence is about to or will occur.

During 2016/17 there were a total of 298,949 stop and searches in England and Wales, with black people eight times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to their white counterparts.  The Metropolitan Police have the highest number of stop and searches nationally, out of every 1,000 people stopped and searched:  40 are black, 14 mixed and 13 Asian people compared with 10 out of every 1,000 white people. 

Although there is a rising number of people (in particularly young people), who have died violently only 14% of stop and searches were related to offensive weapons and 1% for firearms, compared with 63% for drug related charges.  That being said under PACE section 1 only 17% of stop and searches led to arrests and only 15% arrests occurred when individuals were stopped and searched under Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.  Therefore, based on the figures what is the true benefit of stop and search and how will this assist with reducing gang and violent crimes, particularly in the black community?  The figures clearly show that stop and search does very little to prevent the spiraling violence we are experiencing within the capital and is based on a Police Officers judgement.

In 2014, then Home Secretary Theresa May called for the Police to reform their stop and search procedures as it had been deemed that more than 250,000 stop and searches were illegal and high numbers of the black community were being targeted. A set of guidelines were issued for reform and the Police were advised that if sufficient changes had not been made then the government would create law to make the Police accountable for stop and search.  One of the key issues that is contributory factor in the high portion of BAME individuals being stopped and searched is the Police Officer’s own perception and ‘unconscious bias’ towards others which may influence their decision when conducting a stop and search.  This spurred the College of Policing to set out new guidelines and ensure that the officers completed an online training course and exam.  

Although the number of stop and search has reduced during this time, it has not been effective as the number of BAME in particularly the black community is higher than any other ethnicity. 

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has called for an increase of ‘intelligent’ led stop and search, however, when taking place Police Officers will now be wearing body cameras. As a result, Sadiq Khan has faced backlash from some media outlets for going against his 2016 manifesto , whereby he wanted to reduce the number of stop and searches which took place by the Metropolitan Police. This has led to challenges  from Labour MP’s David Lammy and Diane Abbott who have both reiterated that stop and search is ineffective, is targeted towards the BAME community and encourages a continuous break down in relationship between the Police and community groups.

 The stop and search argument has been going on for over 30 years and not much has changed in terms of who the primary targets are and that it is not an effective process to reduce crime. My view from doing this ‘light touch’ research is that it is an ineffective mechanism used to control the BAME community and historically the figures and information shows that it has not made a significant difference to crime reduction. My personal opinion is that rather than using stop and search the government and London Mayor needs to ensure that Local Authorities are working in unison to tackle gangs and knife crime and that more resources are placed into the youth services, schools, employment, housing, mental health services as they all play a pivotal role in the high level of crime we are experiencing today.

However, stop and search is happening therefore it is important for us to understand what it is and how to handle a situation if it was to occur to me, you, a friend or a family member therefore please find enclosed some pointers to take note of as per government website crime, justice and the law:

 1.    The Police can stop and question an individual about:

  • what is their name
  • what they are doing in the area
  • where they are going

However, to seek clarity it is recommended that you ask the Officer ‘if you are being detained’ if the answer is ‘no’ then you can leave at any time.

2.    The Police can stop and search individuals if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that an individual is carrying:

  • illegal drugs
  • a weapon
  • stolen property
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar

*Also known as section 1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) or section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

3.    The Police can only stop and search individuals ‘without reasonable grounds’ if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This normally happens if it is suspected that:

  • serious violence could take place
  • an individual is carrying a weapon or has used one
  • individuals are in a specific location or area (and can only be enforced for a maximum of 48 hours)

*Also known as section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 or section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000.

4.    Before conducting a search the police officer should confirm the following to the individual they have stopped:

  • Their name
  • The name of their police station
  • What they are looking for 
  • Why they are legally allowed to search  an individual and,
  • That anyone who has been stopped and searched is entitled to have a copy of the search record

5.    During the search a Police Officer can ask an individual to:

  • Remove their coat, jacket or gloves or any items which conceals their identity.
  • Any religious items should be removed out of public view such as in the back of a police van
  • If a Police Officer requires further removal of clothing this must be of the same sex as you (however, please note that if they require a strip search this should take place in a Police station).

For further information on how you can present yourself during a stop and search and if you wish to make a complaint about a stop and search incident please go onto independent charity ‘Release’ website that have further guidelines which can assist you.

About Author

South London Blogger, who is passionate about writing topics that have an impact on people of colour in the UK!

(2) Comments

  1. I find these things very bothersome. It is the same here in the U.S. I’ve been witness to similar situations and there’s never a valid explanation for why the persons were randomly searched. It makes me very angry. We have to keep shedding light on these incidents and make sure we are aware of what our rights are. Great information!

  2. I agree we really do need to educate ourselves and our young people about what our rights are when we have been stopped, it can make a difference of the outcome of our encounter with the police. Unfortunately, even though the statistics prove that this is ineffective the UK government has still decided to ramp up the stop and search in particularly within the black community. ☹️

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