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Widening racial disparity in stop and searches

New data finds Black people stopped and searched 10 times more than White people in England and Wales

Home Office data released on Police powers and procedures in England and Wales year ending 31 March 2019 has found widening racial disparities between White and Black people stopped and searched, among the overall increases in stop and search activity conducted in the last year.

Section 1

Under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, police forces conducted 370,454 stop and searches in the twelve-month period up to 31 March 2019, a 32% increase compared with the previous year. It also represented the first rise in stop and searches under the order since 2010/11.

A sixth of these searches (58,251) led to an arrest, which was 21% more than the previous year. However, despite an increase in the volume of PACE 1 arrests, the rate fell from 17% to 16% compared with 2017/18.

In contrast to claims that such an increase in stop and search is needed to combat knife crime, the most common reason for carrying out a PACE stop and search was on suspicion of drug possession. These accounted for three-fifths (61%) of all stop and searches in the latest year, whereas ‘increased police activity to combat knife crime' represented a smaller proportion of searches (16% of searches conducted on suspicion of carrying offensive weapons, up from 14%); arrest rates stayed the same at 14%. 

The vast majority of section 1 searches (73%) resulted in 'no further action' being taken.

Section 60

On the use of the area-wide power section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, there were 13,175 stop and searches conducted in anticipation of violence in the year ending March 2019, a fivefold increase the number of searches on the previous period. One commentator noted that this huge rise occurred ‘before protections surrounding Section 60 in the BUSS scheme were removed earlier this year’.

This huge rise occurs before protections surrounding Section 60 in the BUSS scheme were removed earlier this year.

— Lucy Bryant (@LucyElBryant) October 24, 2019

Furthermore, only 5% of section 60 searches actually led to an arrest, a fall of three percentage points compared with 2017/18.

Race gap

When split by ethnicity, the across-the-board increases in stop and searches were most acutely experienced by Black people in terms of proportion. Black people in England and Wales were stopped and searched 9.7 times more often than their White counterparts.

Although the volume of White individuals stopped and searched increased most of all ethnic groups (+40,322), stop and searches of Asian individuals rose most in terms of proportion (+44%). This means that, in the year ending March 2019, not only were (Black And Minority Ethnic) BAME individuals stopped more often than White individuals (4.3 times), but the disparity between the two groups has 'widened’ over time.

One commentator also noted that among Metropolitan Police Service section 60 searches, nearly a quarter (24%) did not record ethnicity. This represents a potentially serious hindrance to accurately identifying levels of racial disproportionality in stop and searches; roughly three-quarters (73%) of section 60 searches were conducted by the Met.

Note also that in 24% of s60 #stopsearch-es by the MPS the ethnicity was not stated/recorded. That's a big problem when looking at disproportionality, esp if they are systematically more/less likely to be BAME.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) October 24, 2019

Faulty reasoning?

In the latest year, approximately one in every five stop and searches (22%) resulted in an outcome that was linked to the reason for the search. This proportion varied considerably depending on the reason for the stop, and happened most often for drug stops, where one in four (28%) stops led to an outcome related to ‘drugs’.

As mentioned before, despite the rhetoric of police officers needing stop and searches to combat knife crime, only one in eight (12%) searches relating to ‘offensive weapons’ led to that outcome. Furthermore, only 4% of outcomes from searches under section 60 were linked to the initial reason for it taking place.

You can read our Twitter thread summarising the results here:

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