Race bias in stop and search get­ting worse – shock re­port

The Observer - - Front Page - Mark Townsend Home Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

Black Bri­tons are in­creas­ingly likely to be stopped and searched by po­lice com­pared with white peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to shock­ing new fig­ures that chal­lenge Theresa May’s at­tempt to re­form the con­tro­ver­sial power.

The most au­thor­i­ta­tive anal­y­sis of the data since the Stephen Lawrence in­quiry nearly 20 years ago found that black Bri­tons are now nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white peo­ple, de­spite us­ing il­le­gal sub­stances at a lower rate. In 2010-11, black peo­ple were six times more likely to be searched for drugs.

In 2014, when home sec­re­tary, May an­nounced mea­sures to make stop and search less bi­ased, de­scrib­ing it as “un­fair, es­pe­cially to young black men”. But in­stead, a study by the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, a pres­sure group called the Stop­watch coali­tion and ex­perts on drug law, Re­lease, found that its use has be­come more dis­crim­i­na­tory.

Black Bri­tons are now stopped and searched for any rea­son at 8.4 times the rate of whites – a fig­ure that has more than dou­bled since 1998-99 when the Macpher­son re­port into the Lawrence mur­der de­clared the Met­ro­pol­i­tan po­lice to be “in­sti­tu­tion­ally racist”.

David Lammy, who chaired a govern­ment re­view of racial dis­par­ity in

the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, called the new fig­ures a “pro­found racial in­jus­tice”. The MP for Tot­ten­ham in north Lon­don said: “Grounded in the fic­ti­tious nar­ra­tive that drug use is es­pe­cially preva­lent among black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups, the cur­rent prac­tice of stop and search en­ter­tains a racist fan­tasy.”

The re­port doc­u­ments stop-and­search fig­ures in Eng­land in Wales in 2016-17. It shows that all 43 po­lice forces stopped and searched black peo­ple at a higher rate than white peo­ple. Drug searches made up 60% of all stop and searches, with most be­ing for sim­ple cannabis pos­ses­sion, it­self re­spon­si­ble for driv­ing much of the racial dis­par­ity in prose­cu­tion of drug of­fences. Black and Asian peo- ple were con­victed of cannabis pos­ses­sion at 11.8 and 2.4 times the rate of white peo­ple de­spite lower rates of self-re­ported cannabis use.

Michael Shiner, a co-au­thor of the re­port, said: “For all the talk of knife crime, gangs and se­ri­ous vi­o­lence, the re­al­ity is that stop and search is still be­ing used to over-po­lice vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties for low-level drug pos­ses­sion. Stud­ies have re­peat­edly shown that stop and search has no im­pact on knife crime and se­ri­ous vi­o­lence, it se­lec­tively crim­i­nalises black peo­ple and those from other mi­nor­ity groups for of­fences that are largely ig­nored in other con­texts. What­ever the in­ten­tion might be, stop and search is a driver of dis­crim­i­na­tion,” said Shiner, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the Mannheim cen­tre for crim­i­nol­ogy at the LSE.

Ar­rests for drugs as a re­sult of stop and search fell by 52% for white peo­ple be­tween 2010-11 and 2016-17, but did not fall at all for black peo­ple.

Over­all, the use of stop and search has re­duced by 75% from 2010-11 to 2016-17, a re­duc­tion en­cour­aged by May’s re­forms. But the fall has been most pro­nounced among white peo­ple, mak­ing its use more heav­ily con­cen­trated on black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups. The anal­y­sis also found black peo­ple are more likely to be ar­rested as a re­sult of stop and search than white peo­ple, but less likely to be given an out-of-court dis­posal, which re­places a prose­cu­tion in court and means black peo­ple are more likely to be pros­e­cuted.

A Home Of­fice spokesper­son said: “Stop and search is a vi­tal polic­ing tool and of­fi­cers have the govern­ment’s full sup­port to use these pow­ers. We are clear that no­body should be stopped on the ba­sis of their race or eth­nic­ity and since in­tro­duc­ing re­forms in 2014 we have seen the high­est ever stop-to-ar­rest ra­tio.

“How­ever, tack­ling se­ri­ous vi­o­lence is not just about law en­force­ment and that is why, ear­lier this month, the home sec­re­tary pro­posed a new ‘pub­lic health’ ap­proach. This would see po­lice, ed­u­ca­tion, lo­cal au­thor­ity and health care pro­fes­sion­als be­ing given a new le­gal duty to take ac­tion to pre­vent se­ri­ous vi­o­lence.”

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