There is much debate at present as a result of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, encouraging her officers to increase their use of stop and search powers in a bid to tackle rising knife crime and acid attacks.
Statistics show that black people are still four times more likely than white people to be stopped. These figures validate the already widely held belief that stop and search is discriminatory, and there is a great likelihood that its increased use will widen the divide between the police and already alienated and isolated communities. This current indiscriminate use of stop and search brings about distrust and discord in the BAME community, creating an us versus them mentality, when the reality is the police have a difficult job to do in trying to protect and serve the community.
How do we therefore achieve a balanced crime fighting measure?
Firstly, there needs to be greater investment in marginalised communities and the provision of greater infrastructure and engagement with young people in order to reduce crime. Building relationships with key community leaders and providing them with the necessary support to educate and nurture young people in order to keep them safe is key.
Communities should also be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Police forces must get to the root cause of why young people are carrying offensive weapons, knives, guns, acid and harmful drugs. Is it the fear of violence against themselves? Are there potential links to mental health and social and economic deprivation of their communities? Or is it due to being members of already marginalised and isolated communities?
Clients we represent at Hudgell Solicitors often complain of the hostile circumstances in which police carry out a stop and search; often with no recognition, understanding or appreciation of its impact on the individual being publicly stopped and searched, especially if this happens in the area they live. Additionally, more often than not, the search ends with no apologies forthcoming when nothing is found.
Arguably, if stop and search operations were conducted in a more respectful manner, communities would feel less marginalised and would understand that the police were simply doing their job.
The Home Secretary has pointed to the stop-to-arrest rate being at an all-time high, having doubled in London since 2009-2010, saying this shows that ‘police are targeting the right suspects better than ever before’. Commissioner Dick also said that ‘about one in three stop and searches result in something being found’.
Given the recent increased threats to our safety and the number of harrowing incidents in the capital, few might argue with these figures.
We all agree that police officers need all power to their arm in the fight against knife crime and street violence, but these powers must always be used lawfully, courteously, be subject to proper scrutiny and without discrimination.
Transparency is needed across the stop and search complaints system so that when a search does go wrong, the public has confidence in the sanctions and remedies available.
People, and communities, will only have more confidence and trust in stop and search tactics if they can see positive results, and a means to hold the police to account should they need to.