Police use of stop and search risks losing trust of black community, watchdog warns 


Police use of stop and search risks losing the trust of the black community, a damning report by the official watchdog has warned as the number of black murder victims in Britain has hit a 20-year high.  

HM Inspectorate of Police said police forces are still unable to explain a ‘disproportionate’ use of the controversial powers to search for drugs on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. 

The report, published today by HMI Wendy Williams, said the use of the tactic was causing ‘far-reaching and long lasting’ damage to community relations – especially when no drugs were typically found.

She also warned that the damage could outweigh any benefits and urged police forces to consider whether a focus on tackling drug possession with stop and search was an effective use of the powers.

The report came as official figures found that 105 black people were murdered in the year to March 2020, with half aged under 24 and the homicide rate for black people five times that of white people, in the highest toll since 2002.

The report came as official figures showed that 105 black people were murdered in the year to March 2020, the highest number since 2002. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said half were aged under 24, with the homicide rate for black people five times that of white people

HM Inspectorate of Police said forces are still unable to explain a 'disproportionate' use of powers on BAME people. Pictured, a policeman in Liverpool using stop and search

HM Inspectorate of Police said forces are still unable to explain a ‘disproportionate’ use of powers on BAME people. Pictured, a policeman in Liverpool using stop and search 

Police use of stop and search fell as murder rate rose – after Theresa May condemned ‘discriminatory’ tactics

Official figures show the number of stop and searches fell from 1.2 million in 2010/11 to 280,000 in 2017/18, before increasing to 558,973 in 2019/20. 

At the same time, the homicide rate for black victims has risen from 29.5 per million in the three years to March 2014 to 49.5 in the three years to March 2020. 

The murder rate in England and Wales rose after 2014, when then Home Secretary Theresa May stopped stop and search on grounds the tactic was ‘discriminatory’ against ethnic minorities.

Though police forces have stepped up use of the tactic in the past two years, there has been a decline following the killing of George Floyd in the US last May and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed.   

Ken Marsh, chair of the Met Police Federation, said ‘there’s a clear correlation’, adding: ‘When Theresa May condemned stop and search and we stopped doing it, what happened? A rise in murders and knife crime went through the roof.’ 

In London alone, the number of stops and searches by Metropolitan Police officers has fallen by 51 per cent from 43,938 in May 2020 to 21,243 in January. 

The tactics have been defended by Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House, who said stop and search was being targeted ‘where the problem lies’. 

He argued that inevitably meant an ethnic imbalance because ‘young black men are dying on the streets of London and are being stabbed on the streets of London and, candidly, are also stabbing on the streets of London.’ 

Officers have now lost confidence in the use of stop and search. 

Earlier this month, Met Superintendent Simon Rotherham told the Telegraph: ‘It’s very interesting to see that the numbers of black people being searched, reduced over the summer considerably. Was that a result of Black Lives Matter, I don’t know.

He added: ‘The thing that has been really evident for us over the last few years is just how fragile officer confidence is around stop and search. 

‘It’s a discretionary power. You don’t have to do it, no one can make you do it. If you don’t think you’ve got grounds to search then you shouldn’t be doing it.’

Police chiefs blame the murder rate rise on a surge in knife crime caused by cuts to officer numbers and a decline in stop and searches after 2014.

The number of knife crime offences has doubled in the past six years, rising by six per cent in the year before the first Covid-19 lockdown to more than 50,000.  

The murder rate in England and Wales rose six years ago, when then Home Secretary Theresa May stopped stop and search on grounds the tactic was ‘discriminatory’ against ethnic minorities.

Though police forces have stepped up use of the tactic in the past two years, there has been a decline following the killing of George Floyd in the US last May and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed globally.

In London alone, the number of stop and searches by Scotland Yard has fallen by 51 per cent from 43,938 in May 2020 to 21,243 in January this year.

The tactics have been defended by Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House, who said stop and search was being targeted ‘where the problem lies’. 

He told the Telegraph that meant an ethnic imbalance because ‘young black men are dying on the streets of London and are being stabbed on the streets of London and, candidly, are also stabbing on the streets of London’.  

However, Ms Williams in her report today said that there needed to be a ‘national debate’ on the use of the tactic.

She said one in 10 arrests from stop and search were for public order offences after nothing was found, which could ’cause or reinforce negative attitudes’ toward the police and damage community relations.

Ms Williams said: ‘Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.

‘It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.

‘The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.’

She went on: ‘Forces should reflect on the findings of this report. They should analyse their data and either explain, with evidence, the reasons for disproportionality, or take demonstrable action to address it.

‘The police service must be able to show the public evidence that their use of the powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.’ 

The report also said that data from 2019/20 shows ethnic minority people were over four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and that black people specifically were nearly nine times more likely.

It said: ‘Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.

‘Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.’

Data from the same time period found black people were about 5.7 times more likely to have force used on them than white people, with figures showing they were more than nine times as likely to have Tasers drawn on them.

The report reveals black people were also eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, for reasons the inspectorate said are ‘unclear’.

HMI Wendy Williams

Home Secretary Priti Patel

HMI Wendy Williams (left) warned police use of stop and search risks losing the trust of the black community. Pictured right, Home Secretary Priti Patel

Knife crime offences DOUBLE in just six years to go above 50,000 for first time, newly published 2020 figures show 

Knife crime offences have doubled in just six years to go above 50,000 for the first time since records began, newly-published figures lay bare. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that offences involving knives or sharp instruments rose by six per cent from 47,388 to 50,019 in England and Wales in the year before the first Covid-19 lockdown was imposed.

Of these offences, 22,012 (44 per cent) were for assault with injury or assault with intent to cause serious harm, and 21,961 (44 per cent) were used in a robbery.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that offences involving knives or sharp instruments rose from 47,388 to 50,019 in England and Wales

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that offences involving knives or sharp instruments rose from 47,388 to 50,019 in England and Wales

However, NHS hospitals in England reported an eight per cent fall in admissions for assault by a sharp object between April 2019 and March 2020. 

The ONS also found that homicides have risen seven per cent to 695 offences including the Grays lorry incident with 39 homicide victims in the same period. 

Recent figures also show that knife crime soared by 25 per cent after the first lockdown was eased last summer and have sparked concerns of an ‘eruption’ of violence once current Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that violent crime was likely to ‘rebound’ after the shutdown, following the murder of aspiring lawyer Sven Badzak, 22, who was stabbed to death in North London. 

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told the Times: ‘We are working closely with the police and others to stop this senseless bloodshed, particularly as Covid restrictions are eased over coming months.’ 

 

Brandishing the use of these powers as ‘unfair’, the watchdog warned this risks further reducing public trust in the police and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupt their education and family lives and reduce their work opportunities.

‘It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources,’ Ms Williams said in the report.

While improvements were made in 2018/19 in monitoring stop and search, the report states too many police forces still do not analyse and monitor enough information and data ‘to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used’.

Inspectors found the most common reason given for the use of stop and search is due to suspected drug possession ‘rather than supply’, which it said indicates that ‘efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities’.

It cited one such priority as county lines, the criminal network of gangs that use a dedicated mobile phone line to distribute drugs, usually from an urban area to a smaller town.

‘Forces often cite county lines as a reason for stop and search, but to be most effective, policing tactics to address this need to target drugs supply more effectively,’ Ms Williams said in her report.

The inspectorate is calling on police leaders to consider whether focusing stop and search on tackling drug possession is an effective use of these powers.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) welcomed the report and said the use of stop and search powers ‘within certain communities has long been a cause for concern’.

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: ‘Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality – and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected – can we start to make the changes that are needed.

‘The report highlights the fundamental shift we need to see in the culture of policing in being open and accountable when concerns are raised.’

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it is developing plans to address the disproportionality in the use of stop and search and to ‘explain it and take action to reduce it wherever possible’.

NPCC’s lead for stop and search, deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson, said the police body will ‘consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime’.

She added: ‘We hold the power of stop and search on behalf of the public so it is vital our communities have confidence in the way it is used and that officers have the confidence to use it effectively and appropriately.’

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said stop and search saved lives after it helped remove 11,000 dangerous weapons from UK streets last year.

He added that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime.

‘We are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance, and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively, and that nobody is stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour,’ Mr Malthouse said.

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