Concern over sharp rise in police use of stop and search powers in Suffolk to tackle drug menace


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Concern and disappointment have been expressed at the sharp rise in the number of black and ethnic people stopped and searched by police in Suffolk this year.

Latest figures show that in general a person from a black or mixed ethnic background is more than twice as likely to be stopped and searched than someone from a white background.

Police say the rise is due to concentrated campaigns to target those supplying Class A drugs in the county’s towns – but racial equality leaders have warned it is vital people are stopped for the right reasons to avoid harming community relations.

Audrey Ludwig, director of legal services for the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE), expressed “disappointment and concern” over the figures.

She said: “We have raised concerns about the increase in disproportionality which police have identified as being linked to certain specific operations.

“We are particularly concerned that stop and search should be done on the basis of reasonable suspicion and should be very much intelligence-led.

“We are critical friends of the police and aim to be constructive, positive and determined in raising our concerns.”

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ISCRE holds meeting with police to discuss officers’ forms explaining why people are stopped and searched with the aim of ensuring the tool is specifically targeted at criminality and not used indiscriminately, as this could have a “negative impact on community relations”.

Assistant Chief Constable David Skevington said: “Stop and search is an important tool in frontline policing and can help us both prevent and detect crime.

“We’re keen to be as transparent as possible and we’re working with communities and partner agencies to ensure our use of stop and search is fair and effective.

“We have recently adopted a new scheme will see us adopt a more intelligence-led approach to stop and search which will lead to an increase in positive outcomes, something which will ultimately lead to safer communities.

“The majority of recent stop searches have been carried out as part of an operation to tackle class A drug dealing in Ipswich. Drug crime affects all of our communities and we are working hard to identify and arrest those responsible, irrespective of their background. This recent intelligence-led operation has involved a significant number of people from a black or ethnic minority background.”

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said Suffolk had a very low usage of stop and search but he did understand the concerns of the black and mixed ethnic community over disproportionality.

He said: “That’s why I am holding the Chief Constable to account in public at our panel meeting because we need to do everything we can to keep trust and confidence in the Suffolk Constabulary at a very high level.”

There were challenges facing the police at the moment in dealing with drug gangs from London visiting the county and the use of stop and search would continue to be monitored closely, he said.

Details of the latest stop and search figures are revealed in a report by Chief Constable Douglas Paxton.

The report – to be presented to the accountability and performance panel on Thursday – shows that in a three-month period of summer and early autumn the ratio of stop and searches between black and mixed ethnic people (BME) to those of a white background had risen sharply.

Mr Paxton said the ratio, known as disproportionality, indicated that “someone from a BME background is more than twice as likely to be stopped and searched than someone from a white background”.

He said: “Quarter 2 of 2014/15 shows the highest level of disproportionality, based on the BME to White search ratio, since 2007/08.”

Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal, Waveney and St Edmundsbury had the highest levels of disproportionality, though individual figures for each district are not given.

Between October 2013 and September this year the BME population in Suffolk saw 17.9 stop/searches per 1,000 resident population, up from 14 per 1,000 in the previous corresponding period.

Police say the 69% of stop and searches carried out in Ipswich have been drug searches and 10% of these have led to an arrest.

Mr Paxton said many were connected to specific drug operations to target the supply of Class A drugs from London, where employees of drug gangs are predominantly of non-white ethnic backgrounds.