Proposed changes to the controversial 'stop and search' policy are being held up by Downing Street over concerns about the Conservatives being seen as soft on crime.
Home secretary Theresa May wants to limit the use of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, under which police can stop and search a person without suspicion but with reasonable belief of wrongdoing. The policy has long been criticised for disproportionately targeting the black and Asian communities.
Last year, the home secretary launched a consultation into stop and search on the basis that it was wasting time, alienating the people targeted by it and resulting in too few arrests:
More than one million stop and searches are carried out every year – taking up more than 300,000 hours of officer time. On average, only about nine per cent of those incidents results in an arrest and the figures also vary considerably among forces.
Figures show that people from a black or ethnic minority background are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than those from white backgrounds.
London isn't the only city playing host to accusations of police abuse of powers. New York's incoming mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will reform an equally controversial 'stop and frisk' policy introduced by previous mayor Michael Bloomberg. On a slight side note, have a read of this article by a former US prosecutor — it's an eye-opener.
In the uneasy truce following the Duggan inquest earlier this month, the Metropolitan Police announced that they would appoint a senior officer to improve community relationships (let's face it, it's needed). With the number of hours apparently being spent on stop and search that didn't end in arrest at around the 300,000 mark, it's probably fair to say Section 60 is in need of some fine tuning. A Home Office spokesman said:
“Nobody should ever be stopped just on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity. The government supports the ability of police officers to stop and search suspects, but it must be applied fairly and in a way which builds community confidence."
The crucial words being 'should' and 'suspects'. Obviously, in an ideal world, being black or Asian wouldn't automatically equate to being suspect in the minds of the police, but the statistics haven't borne that out.
Photo by Belkus in the Londonist Flickr pool.