26 October 2017

Stop and search may be down, but ethnic disproportionality is increasing

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New figures released by the Home Office today show that stop and search continues to be targeted at low level drug possession rather than weapons, and that despite major reforms racial and ethnic disproportionality is increasing. In welcome news, the number of stop and searches has fallen 21% from last year to 303, 845 in 2016-17. The lowest level since 2002, when current recording practices began.

New figures released by the Home Office today show that stop and search continues to be targeted at low level drug possession rather than weapons, and that despite major reforms racial and ethnic disproportionality is increasing.

In welcome news, the number of stop and searches has fallen 21% from last year to 303, 845 in 2016-17. The lowest level since 2002, when current recording practices began.

Much attention has been paid in recent months to the overall fall in the numbers of stop searches, linking these falls to the recent increases in police recorded violent crime. The new Home Office data challenges these assumptions.

62 percent of all stop and searches are conducted on the suspicion of drugs, and in the majority of cases this is for low level possession offences. The overall arrest rate for stop and search is 17 percent. This means that not only are the police failing to target stop and searches at violent crime, they are also failing to target it at people who have committed an offence.

Young Black and Minority Ethic (BAME) men and boys in particular are subject to unnecessary and disrespectful stop and searches. Recently a Six Form student told Prime Minister Theresa May of his negative experience of the police: “we got stopped and hassled and harassed”. The PM replied the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS) was launched in 2014 to improve searches.

Yet the new data shows that reforms have failed to address disproportionality. Black people are now 8 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Disproportionality for all BAME groups has increased to 4 times more likely to be stopped. While the numbers of stop and searches have declined for all, the rate of stops have fallen more for White individuals (28%) than BAME individuals (11%). This has meant racial disproportionality has increased, for a second year in a row.

The police must urgently respond to calls from communities to focus efforts on serious violent crime. Stop and search used mostly on low level drugs possession does not protect victims of knife-related crime. In particular BAME communities are losing trust with the police as they most likely to searched, usually without it leading to an arrest.   

StopWatch calls for all police forces in England and Wales to target stop and search specifically on dangerous weapons and for the government to raise standards to eliminate and prevent racial disproportionality.