Race bias in stop and search getting worse – shock report
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.”