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Human rights groups raise alarm over new police powers

A coalition of human rights groups has raised concerns about the piloting of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) which give new stop-and-search powers to police forces

A joint statement from the groups reads: 

We the undersigned are deeply concerned about the human rights impacts of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), due to be piloted in four areas – Thames Valley, West Midlands, Merseyside and Sussex – from the 19th April and call for the pilot to be scrapped.

SVROs are a civil order which a court can make against somebody over the age of 18, who has been convicted of an offence involving a bladed article or an offensive weapon. Crucially, SVROs can be applied to someone even if they have not been involved in serious violence, and even if they have not carried or used a knife themselves – meaning that this measure risks criminalising people for the actions of others, including potential survivors and victims of crime, including young women experiencing criminal exploitation and coercive control.

They grant an unprecedented power that police can wield against named individuals: anyone subject to an SVRO can be stopped and searched at any time, in any place, regardless of suspicion.

Particularly worrying is that SVROs were due to be ‘piloted’ in four areas, with the impact evaluated before any scale up. However, now police in all areas will be able to use the new stop and search power granted for those subject to SVROs. This means that, in effect, police across the country have been handed a new suspicion-less stop and search power with little scrutiny or transparency, or any evidence as to its impact.

The government itself has admitted that SVROs will disproportionately impact young Black men, who are already over- represented in use of other police powers such as stop and search and use of force.

Being stopped and searched is a traumatic experience, and for some people it takes place frequently, even daily.  In a context of increased scrutiny about police racism and abuse of power, we are concerned about handing the police more powers, particularly ones that already disproportionately target Black people.  Subjecting more young Black men to surveillance and targeting by the police will only serve to worsen alienation and division, and is counterproductive to efforts to tackle serious youth violence and build trust in the police amongst Black communities.

These initiatives and others lay the blame for serious violence at the feet of communities of colour, based on a racist understanding of serious youth violence which is not supported by evidence. Subjecting more young Black men to surveillance and targeting by the police will only serve to worsen alienation and division, and is counterproductive in the effort to tackle serious youth violence.

If the government is serious about tackling violence, it must scrap SVROs immediately, and instead invest in measures to address the root causes of serious youth violence – measures which are grounded in communities and have human rights at their heart.

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