New annual stop and search figures released by the Home Office show that police forces in England and Wales carried out more than 700,000 searches (under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) in England and Wales in the year to 31 March 2021, an increase of 22%.
Almost all searches were conducted under section 1 powers (695,009), with the aim of looking for drugs in the vast majority of instances (69%), but like with previous years, 'no further action' was taken in three quarters (79,391, or 77%) of cases.
The proportion of searches aiming to uncover offensive weapons (12%) and stolen property (8%) fell from a quarter to a fifth, and the arrest rate fell for a third consecutive year (to 11%).
The annual number of section 60 searches halved, from 18,043 to 9,320. However, find and arrest rates remained very low, with fewer than 1% of searches under the power uncovering 'persons found to be carrying offensive weapons' (73) and the arrest rate sticking at 4%.
Taken together, the number of searches reached its highest level since 2013/14 (876,334), just before the introduction of the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme.
Racial disparity, a 'raw' topic
The Home Office announced the introduction of stop and search ethnicity data marking a distinction between both the 'officer observed' ethnicity and 'self-defined' ethnicity of the person searched.
This was to compensate for the increasingly significant absence of recorded ethnicity in police records. In 2020/21, the level of missing ethnicity data (self-defined) was 19%, up on the previous year (17%), having steadily increased since the year ending March 2014 (when it was 5%).
As a result of these changes, the headline 'disparity' figure is now renamed 'raw disparity'. Whichever way it is defined, Black and other minority ethnic groups continue to bear the brunt of heavy handed policing. Compared with stops of White people, the racial disparity for all stop and searches in the year ending 31 March 2021 reads as follows (illustrated):
- Black (or Black British): 7.1x
- Asian (or Asian British): 2.6x
- Other Ethnic Group: 1.6x
- Mixed: 2.3x
This is largely down to White people accounting for the largest volume increase in stop and searches. However, using 'officer-observed' ethnicity in place of self-defined ethnicity (when the latter is ‘not stated’), the differential in disparity rates grows much larger among Black people in particular, at 8.7x (vs 7.1x for self-defined ethnicity).
Stop and search: A young person's burden
Over half (54%) of all stop and searches of persons in the year ending March 2021 were on those aged between 10 and 24 years old (368,418 out of 678,389 searches where the age of the person searched was provided). Of these, 115,633 were under 18 (17% of the total).
Children accounted for almost half (46%) of criminal damage searches, 3 in 10 (29%) offensive weapons searches, a fifth (20%) of section 60 CJPOA searches, and 13% of drugs searches. But only 8.4% of those searches resulted in arrests (9,753 out of 115,678).
The document states that:
... stop and search is largely targeted at young men... 70% of stop and searches in the year ending March 2021 were on males aged between 15 and 34, whilst this cohort comprises 13% of the overall population... Males aged 15-19 had the highest rate of stop and search, at 99 stop and searches per 1,000 population
When split by ethnicity, the age differences are even more pronounced, with males aged 15-34 years from a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic background accounting for a third (32%) of stop and searches in the year ending March 2021, despite only comprising 2.6% of the population... Within that age bracket, Black, Asian or other minority ethnic groups are searched 3x to 4x more than Whites. The highest rate of searches were for Black, Asian or other minority ethnic people aged 15-19 years, at 111 per 1,000 people (for ethnic minority males in particular it was 208 / 1,000).
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