Black people nine times more likely to face stop search than white people, according to new data released by the Home Office which reveals the amount of stop and searches conducted in England and Wales has risen by more than 50% in 12 months. The April 2019 – March 20 figures are published in the wake of widespread allegations of racial profiling by police, and, with only 13% of cases leading to arrest, raise serious questions about the competence of stop searches in tackling serious crime.
Police can conduct a stop and search under various ‘powers’ given to them by law. The two most commonly used powers allow police to stop and search an individual where they have ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ that individual of carrying (i) illegal drugs, or (ii) a weapon/stolen items. Throughout 2019-2020, stops under these powers rose by 53% from the previous year, to a total of 558,973.
However, some stop searches do not require a police officer to have reasonable grounds to suspect anything of the individual being searched. A Section 60 is a power given by a Chief Officer under Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and when ordered allows police to stop and search anyone in a specific area.
Last year, the Government relaxed the safeguards around the use of Section 60 and between 2019 and 2020, stops conducted under this power rose by 35%, marking the third consecutive year of increase in the use of this power.
Although too recent to have been reflected in the data published yesterday, in May 2020 alone the Metropolitan police carried out 43,000 stop and searches in London – more than double that of May the previous year. Further, throughout the coronavirus lockdown, over 20,000 young black men were stop searched – the equivalent of more than a quarter of all black 15- to 24-year-olds in London.
Stop searches can lead to the following various outcomes: caution, warning, arrest, or no further action. The data published yesterday shows that between 2019 and 2020, a total of 577,054 stop searches were carried out across England and Wales, with 76% leading to no further action, and less than 13% resulted in arrest. Of those arrested, fewer would have been charged (officially accused of a crime). For example, in 2018, only 8.2% of arrests across England and Wales resulted in charges, according to the Home Office’s own statistics.
Rosalind Comyn, policy officer at the civil rights organization Liberty, called on the Government to ‘prioritise strategies for community safety that address the root causes of violence and reduce the need for police interventions, rather than increasing state harassment of people’. ‘The Government admits there is no proof that ramping up stop and search makes our communities safer,’ she wrote.