UK politics: A fair cop?
- Content Type
- Country Data and Maps
- Economist Intelligence Unit
- No abstract is available.
- Politics, News Analysis
- Political Geography
- United Kingdom
Stop and search: A fair cop?
London's mayor revives a controversial police tool
IN A school classroom in north-east London, Ken Hinds preaches calmness and confidence. Mr Hinds, who runs the Haringey Independent Stop & Search Monitoring Group, is telling a handful of teenagers with behavioural problems how to respond if a police officer stops them in order to perform a mandatory search. The advice is relevant. When the class is asked who has been stopped, everyone--including the teacher--raises their hand. Their experiences vary: some say they remained unflustered, whereas for others it was a heart-pounding ordeal.
Such encounters have become less common. In 2011 the police conducted 1.2m stop-and-searches in England and Wales. Last year that figure was around 300,000 (see chart). The steep decrease was prompted by Theresa May, then the home secretary, in a rare flash of liberalism. She ordered police forces to cut back on searches because they stoked resentment among ethnic minorities, who are more likely than whites to be stopped.
In London that downward trend is about to reverse. On January 10th Sadiq Khan, the mayor, broke a campaign promise by announcing an increase in the use of stop-and-search, to counter a recent surge in violence. Average monthly knife-crime incidents rose from 791 in 2014 to 1,155 in the first half of 2017. Acid attacks increased from 166 in 2014 to 455 in 2016, the latest year available. Mr Khan blames the decline in stop-and-search for the rise.
Some welcome the news. Janette Collins, head of the Crib, a youth group in Hackney, says that protecting youngsters should be the priority. Teenagers in her area avoid rough neighbourhoods for fear of being stabbed. Patrick Green of the Ben Kinsella Trust, an anti-knife-crime charity set up in memory of a murdered teenager, is also pleased with the mayor's decision, but says that other policies, like knife-crime education, are needed.
Yet others worry that it will sour police relations with minorities. Pupils in the north-east London school claim they are stopped just for being black and wearing their hoods up. David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, has criticised the revival of a "vexed" tactic.
Even though fewer searches take place, only 16% of young ethnic-minority men believe the tactic is being used less often, according to polls by YouGov. That may be because the drop in searches of minorities has been less steep than it has for whites. A black person is now eight times more likely to be stopped than a white person, up from four times more likely in 2013.
Officers have tried to curb the aggravation the tactic causes, says Adrian Hanstock, head of the police unit in charge of stop-and-search. He argues that searches help to keep weapons off the streets, but admits that in the past they were sometimes used in "fishing expeditions" or to disperse gangs. Today, in training officers discuss the social consequences of stop-and-search and how to control unconscious biases. New technology, like body-cameras, improve accountability too.
Will the tactic reduce crime? Only 17% of searches lead to an arrest, half of them for drug offences. A recent study by the Home Office examined the impact of a stop-and-search drive in 2008, also aimed at curbing knife crime. The authors found no effect. Similar research by the College of Policing found that a doubling of stop-and-search was associated with only a 0.1% fall in violent crime. Even if the latest drive is more effective, says Mr Hinds, it will come at a cost to community relations.
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