Protestors stage demonstration over stop and search row

RACE relations campaigners today staged an unprecedented protest outside the headquarters of Suffolk Police in their fight for equality.

Protesters held a peaceful vigil at the gates of police headquarters in Martlesham where members of the monitoring and audit committee of the Suffolk Police Authority are due to meet to discuss why so many members of the black and minority ethnic community are subjected to stop searches.

Figures show that 9.1 per cent of those stopped and searched by Suffolk Police are from the black and minority ethnic community - despite the fact they only account for 5.6 per cent of the population.

The Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) claim that as a high percentage of those searched are innocent this can only be an example of “negative racial stereotyping”.

But while Suffolk Police recognise that there is more work to be done, the force says that more effective scrutiny and monitoring of stop and search information is improving

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the strategy.

Assistant Chief Constable Stewart Gull, of Suffolk Police, said: ““Our previous work has led to more effective scrutiny of stop and search information, improved procedures governing stop and search and enhanced officer training.

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“As a result, the number of arrests following stop and searches has increased which demonstrates that our approach is now far more targeted and intelligence-led. This is far more effective at reducing crime. We recognise that there is more to be done and so remain committed to continuously improving our performance in this area through rigorous monitoring and training.”

ISCRE gathered around 25 members at Suffolk Police HQ from 9am to highlight the fact it believes the stop and search policy is damaging race relations in the county at a time when Suffolk Police has withdrawn funding from an innovative group which allowed them to discuss the use of their stop and search powers with the charity.

Yesterday, a spokesman for ISCRE said: “This is the first of its kind in Suffolk and it is an important step in drawing the attention of the wider community to the growing concern about the misuse of stop and search powers and the increasing unequal treatment of citizens.”

He explained that the vigil would be a “dignified” protest and that members would be wearing campaign tee-shirts.

The protest comes as the authority’s monitoring and audit Committee analyse the statistics for stop searches carried out between April 2009 and March 2010.

A report circulated prior to the meeting says: “There are risks in relation to service delivery, community cohesion and confidence in the police if stop and search powers are not used proportionately.”

It details a 32 per cent decrease in the total number of searches carried out compared to the previous year - the greatest fall being in the Ipswich area where there has been a 41 per cent reduction.

However, 5.6 white residents were searched per 1,000 compared to 11.1 searches per 1,000 for the ethnic minority community.

The report reads: “Across the individual ethnic groups those from a black background are most likely to see disproportionality, with 3.7 stop searches for each white. This is currently highest in Ipswich with 7.1 stop searches for every 1 white.”

Members were expected to note the changes and endorse the ongoing work to bring stop searches in line.

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