Today (15 December 2023) marks the publication of a joint-investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into a super-complaint raised by the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) that raised concerns about ‘harms caused by suspicionless stop and searches and inadequate scrutiny of stop and search powers’. StopWatch were among the organisations and persons consulted on the issue during the investigation.
We find the conclusions of the investigation disappointing but not at all surprising. Successive governments, and policing bodies, have made it appallingly clear: they know section 60 is racist and they know section 60 does not work, but they simply do not care. Two quotes early on in the report demonstrate this:
‘None of the forces we spoke with could fully explain why the police’s use of section 60 results in disproportionality.’ [p.9]
‘…authorising the use of section 60 stop and search powers more often doesn’t necessarily reduce knife crime at a borough or force area level. It is less clear how successful the power is at helping to reduce knife crime more locally.’ [p.9]
Yet, despite these acknowledgements and others encompassing what the investigation calls ‘a range of shortcomings’ with section 60, going back to the inception of the power almost 30 years ago, the report simply provides a raft of recommendations aimed at ‘improving’ the use of the power and evaluating its effectiveness. We can be confident that these will be added to the already lengthy list of action plans designed at improving relations with overpoliced communities, all of which have amounted to nothing so far due to the continued failure of police chiefs to acknowledge the institutional racism infecting policing across the country.
This is simply not good enough. There have been countless studies, reviews and reports for well over a decade making it plain that section 60 is a failed and racist power, and this is not improving. The Home Office’s own statistics highlight year on year that the purported aim of reducing serious and violent crime is not met: only 5% of section 60 stops in the year ending March 2023 ended in arrest, and only 1% specifically for the offensive weapons that we are often told are the primary reason for the continued existence of the power. All the while, the disproportionality present in all types of stop and search remains high: Black people were searched under section 60 7.2 times more often than white people in the year ending March 2023.
The constant retort that section 60 is used to ‘protect’ Black communities in particular from ‘knife crime’ (a highly racialised term in itself) has been shown time and time again to be a lie. Given this fact has endured for three decades, we are astonished that the repeal of the power was not even considered as part of the super-complaint investigation.
The simple fact is that section 60 is a redundant power with no purpose beyond being a tool of social control of communities deemed as violent and criminal, and even then it almost never works. The CJA were right the first time; section 60 does more harm than good, and therefore should be scrapped.