Following a recent rise in concerns that police stop and search powers could be extended under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Rachel Harger, solicitor in our Actions against Police and State team was approached by the Press Association for a comment:
National statistics released for 2019-20 reflected a sharp increase in the use of stop and search, and my view is that this is a direct consequence of government leaders advocating for the increased use of stop and search powers and the Home Office relaxation of voluntary guidance on the use of pre-condition search (e.g. s60 – a power which allows officers to search without reasonable grounds) – which had been introduced between 2013 and 2016.
Governmental and policing leaders repeatedly justify the use of stop and search as if it is the only response to so called 'violent crime'. There is no proof that the increase of stop and search powers lowers the levels of violent crime. We need community led strategies, programs and government funding which properly protect communities and deal with the root causes of violent crime – which in itself would reduce the need for police interventions. Programs and strategies should take a holistic approach and focus on increasing education and job opportunities as well as housing and counselling.
Furthermore, looking at the most recent data we know the most prominent reason that the police give for a stop and search is that they are looking for drugs – and most of these stops are in relation to possession rather than supply. These stops are a significant contribution to the racial disproportionality we see in the use of stop and search, yet there is no evidential correlation between the racialised and rates of drug use. This data alone suggests that stop and search powers are not being used in an objectively targeted or effective means.
At the very least, all suspicionless stop and search powers have to go and yet we have a government, who instead of listening and engaging with communities raising concerns about these powers, has responded with proposals to increase them.
Under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 the police will be able to stop and search individuals, who have previously been convicted of carrying an offensive weapon (even if they have not received a custodial sentence), without reasonable suspicion.
When I speak to my clients who have been repeatedly stopped and searched, there is a general feeling that the police can act with impunity when they use these powers even though when the police do use these wide draconian powers, they must be able to prove that the stop is compliant with the Equality Act – for example that someone has not just been stopped simply because of their race or ethnicity. It is so important that there is proper scrutiny into the use of stop and search, not least because it leads to more racialised people being drawn into a criminal justice system, which disrupts education, family life and reduces work opportunities.