Police criticised over ‘discriminatory’ use of stop and search
- Credit: PA
Police in Suffolk and Essex have defended the use of stop and search tactics after criticisms over alleged “discriminatory treatment”.
The forces are among 40 across the UK to have begun reporting monthly and in greater detail on their use of the practice as the latest in a series of Home Office measures aimed at increasing transparency in policing.
Figures show that officers in Suffolk used stop and search on 1,089 occasions between January and March this year, down on the previous year’s average of 487 a month. In Essex it was used 666 times between April and June, also a decline on last year’s monthly average of 442.
Despite the reductions, opponents say they remain concerned those searches that do take place involve disproportionately high numbers of young people and ethnic minorities while resulting in relatively few criminal finds.
The new data, published online at police.uk, shows that more than twice as many searches in Essex were carried out on people under 25 compared with those older, while in Suffolk one search was carried out on a child younger than 10.
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Although most searches in both counties were carried out on white people, when the figures are compared against the relative populations of different ethnic groups, they show that black people were six times more likely to be searched in Suffolk than those who are white. In Essex, black people were five times more likely to be searched than their white neighbours.
A higher proportion of searches involving black people resulted in nothing being found compared with searches carried out on white people, but when something was found the outcome tended to be more severe, with a greater proportion of arrests and fewer cautions.
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Overall, the majority of searches – 64% in Essex and 59% in Suffolk – were recorded as resulting in “nothing found – no further action”, with those that did, often unrelated to the original reason for the search. In Essex 70% of searches that resulted in action being taken had outcomes not linked to their initial purpose, whereas in Suffolk it was 43%.
Natasha Dhumma, youth co-ordinator with StopWatch, an action group promoting fair and accountable policing, said the outcomes “demonstrate ineffectiveness” and show that police are “targeting hundreds of innocent people in Essex and Suffolk, specifically those from black communities”.
“None of this data justifies this discriminatory treatment,” she added
“Further, it is disturbing that when looking at those committing exactly the same crime, black people receive much harsher punishments than their white counterparts.
“Put the two together and we can see that the disproportionate use of stop and search is effectively an entry point to an unjust system that treats black people more severely than others.”
Ms Dhumma said StopWatch welcomed the publication of the data “and any attempt to bring greater transparency to the way this police power is being used” though she added that further steps were still needed to ensure it is used to “inform and improve police behaviour”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also supported the publication of stop and search figures, though it too called for further improvements, particularly in terms of the alleged racial bias.
“The effective and lawful use of stop and search powers is an important area we need to get right,” a spokesman added.
“Concerted efforts by the commission and police service have resulted in some valuable improvements but these figures show there is still a long way to go.”
Suffolk Constabulary said it worked with partnerships to “constantly improve” its use of stop and search “and this is recognised nationally as best practice”.
Temporary assistant Chief Constable David Skevington added: “Stop and search is an important tool in frontline policing that can help us both prevent and detect crime.
“We’re keen to be as transparent as possible and will be continuing to work with our partners agencies to ensure our use of stop and search is fair and effective.”
Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore acknowledged that stop and search can be “controversial” and welcomed the measures to improve transparency and confidence.
“The use of Stop and Search is important in tackling crime, but it’s crucial that it is used at the right times and in the right way otherwise it can have a damaging impact on public confidence,” he added.
“In Suffolk the use of stop and search is closely monitored; the Constabulary is required to submit a six monthly report to my accountability and performance meeting, which is open to the public. I ask for this regular update because I need to be quite sure that the use of this power is proportionate.
“Last year the HMIC highlighted Suffolk Constabulary for their good practice in the use of these powers and I hope this positive endorsement and the Constabulary’s open approach reassures people in Suffolk.”
An Essex Police spokesman said that stop and search is an “invaluable policing tool” to help keep communities safe and highlighted two murders in Colchester last year that led to an increase in the use of stop and search procedures.
In terms of ethnic minorities, the spokesman said officers searched “far more white people” but conceded that as a proportion of the population black people were searched at a disproportionately high rate, when compared with census data.
“We are working with the stop and search scrutiny panel and the Essex Police independent advisory group to understand these figures better,” the spokesman added.
“In the last year only 14 of more than 5,000 stop and searches in Essex resulted in any complaint being made to us.”
Introducing the new measures, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Stop and search is undoubtedly an important police power. But when it is misused it can be counter-productive and an enormous waste of police time.
“If it is not operated in a targeted and proportionate way and if innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between police and the public.”
Suffolk police publish stop and search map of county
Suffolk police is one of 25 forces across the country to publish stop and search statistics alongside its localised crime map, allowing residents to check on every occurrence in their neighbourhood.
Looking at the figures, also available at police.uk it is possible to identify areas where police carry out more stop and searches and compare those with the number of reported crimes.
Out of all Suffolk’s 29 neighbourhood police teams, Lowestoft South and North saw the most searches during the three months from January to March, with 100 and 98 respectively, followed by Ipswich Central with 97.
St Edmundsbury North (94), Haverhill (91) and Ipswich South West (70), saw the next most searches.
The fewest searches were carried out in Mid Suffolk North (5), Kesgrave (5) and Saxmundham and Framlingham (7).
There was a clear link between the number of crimes reported in an area and the number of searches carried out, with high crime areas seeing the most searches.
However, some areas saw searches carried out at a higher ratio to crimes than others. For example, St Edmundsbury Rural saw 17 searches for every 100 reported crimes, whereas Kesgrave saw only two per
100. The average across Suffolk was eight searches per 100 crimes.