The Boris Johnson administration has served notice that there must be firmer action taken in relation to crime in the UK. New measures have been proposed and the one which has created great debate is the expansion of police powers in relation to ‘stop and search’. Social workers in the black community and some politicians have vociferously opposed the introduction of the new guideline.
I will look at the broader issues on this matter later, but the most significant change is that the police need now only believe that a crime may be committed rather than, as previously required, will be committed. The change would appear to give the police unchallenged opportunities to apprehend unsuspecting individuals without definitive cause.
Figures have shown that a black person is 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white colleague. Indeed, recent reports suggest that the gap is widening. It, therefore, begs the question, are black people therefore more likely to be targeted than is currently the case? However much one wants to be fair-minded and objective, the inescapable truth is lodged in the statistics and you can, therefore, draw your own conclusions.
The government’s stated justification for the change is echoed through new Home Secretary Priti Patel. She has argued that the toughening of the guidelines is supported by those who have been victims directly or indirectly of violent knife and other crimes. In a memorable statement, she said it is her intention that criminals should have the fear of the police in their minds when they seek to commit these atrocities.
However, her views are not supported by all in the community. The broadening of the conditions is likened to a similar state of circumstances when massive rioting occurred in London in 2011, arguably because of the intensification of stop and search operations in the three months before these disturbances. It is perhaps ironic that Mr Johnson was the Mayor of London when such a policy was played out.
Mr Jonathan Hinds from Haringey Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group is quoted as saying that the increase in stop and search is going to hit a particular demographic and that there will be a repeat of what occurred in 2011.
The current government is at odds in their judgement with former Prime Minister Mrs Theresa May who, as the Home Secretary in 2014, eased the strict conditions for stop and search because she felt that the powers were used illegally and at times, discriminatorily. Indeed, only about one in ten of the searches led to an arrest.
A further dampener on Ms Patel’s dash to take a hardball view can perhaps be found in the recent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies report which found that extensive stop and search action can have detrimental effects on particular groups and hurt community relations. Nonetheless, it appears that the Home Secretary has the overwhelming backing of the general public. The results of a recent poll show that almost 74 per cent of those questioned agree that there should be wider powers given to the police in relation to stop and search operations.
Stop and search has always triggered high emotions. Ms Diane Abbott, the Labour Shadow Home Secretary, is perhaps the most vociferous opponent of the broad usage of this policing policy. She has bitterly attacked the government and argues that the relaxation of the rules is a backward step. In dismissing the new guidelines, she argues that you can only effectively police with the consent of the community. Speaking on BBC Radio, she said in part: “Evidence based stop and search will always be a useful tool for police officers, but random stop and search is a tried and tested method for exacerbating community relations.”
Emotive reaction to the policy is not confined to the professional politicians and social workers. Barbados TODAY has spoken to ordinary black people across London and found that support for stop and search is similar to that expressed in the poll. The naked observation is that the policy gives the older individual a sense of protection against possible danger. However, it occurs to me that the effect on community relations, especially regarding the young black men, is not high on the agenda. The individuality of their views is stark.
Barbados TODAY also sought to take the emotion from a subject that requires clinical appraisal as it relates to knife crime on the streets. Retired Police Superintendent Leroy Logan served in the Met Police for 30 years at all levels and has firmly held views on the subject. He is yet to be convinced that stop and search is the most effective way to deal with knife crime and contends that there is no correlation between the two.
Stop and search can now be seen almost as a political football. The recent expansion of police powers is believed, in many quarters, to be a window-dressing exercise by the new government in its determination to appear tough on crime.
Section 60 is a process under which police officers have the power to stop and search without reasonable suspicion and it is increasingly being used. The recent pronouncements will now give further impetus to this method of policing. Searches under this Regulation have risen by 500 per cent over the past year but it must be stated that the policy does not only affect young black people. However, the reality is they are targeted disproportionately, and it is highly likely that more of them will fall in the net. A Report by StopWatch said young people from ethnic minorities were being “subjected to relentless searching without a demonstrable, legitimate purpose and sometimes several times a day.” There could be bleak times ahead.
There is a fine line between the duty of a police officer to prevent crime and whether or not his method of the operation of stop and search deeply and negatively impacts on life in the black communities.
However, the increasing violent crime on our streets, particularly black on black, is not to be taken lightly. Both sides need to act responsibly and with caution in the battle against this cancer in our society.
Vincent ‘Boo’ Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired Land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and the disapora.