Under new powers, police will be able to stop and search people previously convicted of knife-crime offences without a reason. The powers are embedded within the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, which will go before MPs in a matter of weeks.
Under the proposals, courts will be expected to impose Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) on anyone over 18 with a knife or weapon related conviction unless there is a ‘compelling’ reason not to. Police will then be granted powers to stop and search anyone subjected to an SVRO, regardless of whether or not they believe them to be carrying a weapon.
The proposed regime marks a significant departure from existing stop and search powers, all of which require police officers to have formed some sort of suspicion as a basis for the search. The most commonly used power, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, requires ‘reasonable grounds’ for suspicion. Other stop and search provisions, such as section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, limits the exercise of the power to officers of a certain rank. In contrast, the new powers can be exercised by officers of any level, and do not require prior authorisation by a more senior officer.
Kevin Blowe of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said that the proposals risk ‘creating a class of people who are treated as “permanent criminals” – or who are regularly misidentified as such’. ‘It also risks further criminalising vulnerable young people who are coerced into crime,’ he added.
Newly retired Chief Executive of the College of Policing Mike Cunningham has voiced his concern that existing stop and search powers disproportionately affect Black communities to an ‘eye-watering’ degree. ‘It is absolutely starkly clear that there is a widespread dissatisfaction with policing from black people’, he told The Guardian. ‘I don’t think anybody should try to dress that up and say, “it isn’t real, it’s a mistake, it’s a perception”. Something more needs to be done.’
Recent figures show that black people are nine times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched, and three times more likely to be detained. Rights campaigners believe that the new legislation will compound existing inequalities in policing, and that the evidence underpinning the proposed measures is flimsy. Home Secretary Priti Patel has denounced claims that the new powers will disproportionately target black and minority communities as ‘simply not true’, adding that ‘the Government’s number one job is to keep our people safe.’