November 27 2023

‘Discriminatory’ crime crackdown will divide communities, says Liberty

‘Discriminatory’ crime crackdown will divide communities, says Liberty

Broken window, from Flickr by Lynn Friedmann

The government’s ‘discriminatory’ crackdown on crime will ‘compound discrimination and divide communities’, the human rights campaign group Liberty has said.

The plans, which, according to Liberty, could ‘funnel young people into the criminal justice system’, include the permanent expansion of controversial stop-and-search powers – proven to have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities – and the use of high-visibility fluorescent jackets for those completing community service. In response, campaigners have pleaded for an opposite direction to be taken in favour of the repeal of stop and search powers and introduction of community-based schemes.

Reacting to the government’s Beating Crime Plan, Liberty’s Emmanuelle Andrews said: ‘Greater police powers and more oppressive policies only serve to funnel young people into the criminal justice system. We instead need community-led interventions through investment in services such as health, education, housing and social welfare and work with communities to develop strategies for keeping all of us safe. In short, we need strategies with fairness, participation, and human rights at their heart.’

‘We all want to feel safe in our communities, but expanding what have proven to be discriminatory police powers isn’t how we get there,’ she continued. ‘Many communities experience overbearing and oppressive policing and the package the government has put forward will only worsen this. It will subject more young people to further coercion, punishment and control.’

The plans, which will ‘deliver the change that Britain needs’ according to the government, also propose 999 ‘league tables’ for call-answering times, an expansion of the role of Police and Crime Commissioners, and constant monitoring of burglars and thieves with surveillance technology. Alongside that, it details a violence reduction package of youth interventions to target those who are offending, at a cost of £17m, and specialist support to young people to exit ‘county lines’ drug gangs.

The government is also looking at permanently relaxing section 60 conditions which allows police officers to stop and search individuals without needing to suspect they’ve committed a crime. The Criminal Justice Alliance has written to Priti Patel, calling on the government to publish its assessment behind the decision. There CJA warned in a recent super-complaint that section 60 was ‘a sweeping and ineffective power’ that damaged trust and confidence in policing.

The letter references two equality impact assessments published in 2019 which highlighted that section 60 could disproportionately impact Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, damage their trust and confidence in policing, and create issues for community policing which relies on trust and cooperation. ‘The impact of any relaxation would be under regular review and scrutiny, including one year after the announcements of said changes,’ one assessment read.

‘All the evidence suggests that this power does more harm than good,’ says the CJA in its letter. ‘Stopping people without reasonable grounds destroys trust and confidence in the police, building walls of silence which only make “beating crime” more difficult.’ Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchestersaid that the relaxation of section 60 needed to be dealt with with ‘great caution’. ‘We support stop and search as a tool that the police need at their disposal, but it has to be used with real care,’ he said.

A report into race equality in Greater Manchester police (GMP) punisher this week found that black people in the region were 5.3 times more likely to have been stopped and searched than their white counterparts however black people searched were only marginally more likely to be found to be carrying anything illegal (28% of searches on black people resulted in an outcome such as arrest or a caution compared to 26% for white). It was reported that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people – see here.

The day after the publication of the plans, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, renewed his attack on ‘lefty’ lawyers who, he said, act ‘against the interests of the public’. His comments, which echo his speech last year in which he expressed hostility towards the legal profession, were made in response to Labour’s branding of the Conservatives as ‘the party of crime and disorder’. In May 2019, Boris Johnson in a column for the Telegraph attacked the ‘Leftist culture of so much of the criminal justice establishment’. In that article, he asserted that ‘stop and search is not racist or discriminatory’. ‘In fact there is nothing kinder or more loving you can do when you see a young kid who may be carrying a knife than to ask him to turn out his pockets,’ he said.

Beating CrimePlan: In Brief

‘Crime is a scourge on our society,’ say Home Secretary Priti Patel and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland. ‘Unchallenged, it grows and wrecks the lives of individuals and families, robbing them of their sense of safety and their quality of life. It undermines and destroys the neighbourhoods we call home. We all have a right to live a life free from the blight of crime and those who choose to break our laws must face justice.’

Homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime are concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, says the plan, ‘with nearly a quarter of neighbourhood crime concentrated in just 5% of local areas’. ‘We also know that many of these crimes are committed by a small number of persistent criminals, with just 5% of offenders accounting for up to 50% of all crime. Drugs often play a prominent role; and in the year to March 2020 48% of homicides were drug-related,’ it reads.5

This plan includes the following measures:

  • ‘We will ensure every single person living in England and Wales will have access to the police digitally through a national online platform’;
  • Improving the responsiveness of local police through ‘league tables for answering calls and ensuring that the public know how responsive their local force is when they call them for help’;
  • Intervening early to keep young people safe and away from violence – including ‘a new £17 million package focused on those admitted to A&E with a knife injury or following contact with police’;
  • £45 million for ‘specialist teams in both mainstream schools and Alternative Provision in serious violence hotspots to support young people at risk of involvement in violence to re-engage in education’;
  • Expanding electronic monitoring for serious acquisitive offenders and ‘ensuring that many more neighbourhood criminals have their movements tracked upon release from prison’;
  • Alcohol tags – which detect alcohol in the sweat of offenders guilty of drink-fuelled crime – for prison leavers;
  • Empowering the police to take more knives off the streets and to prevent serious violence by ‘permanently relaxing conditions on the use of section 60 stop and search powers’; and
  • Expanding the role for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).