May vowed to re­form stop and search. But it’s get­ting worse for black Bri­tons Mark Townsend

A shock­ing new re­port re­veals that racial bias has never been more stark in po­lice use of the con­tro­ver­sial power – and that the prob­lem ex­tends across ev­ery force in Eng­land and Wales

The Observer - - News - Home Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

Oraine John­son was stand­ing out­side Dorset’s Brid­port arts cen­tre when of­fi­cers tar­geted him. Ac­cord­ing to John­son, po­lice drove by, stopped their car, then ac­cused him of look­ing like a drug dealer. The 32-yearold was an ac­tor, about to per­form in a May 2017 pro­duc­tion of Sorry!

which was aimed at gal­vanis­ing de­bate on in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism and un­con­coali­tion bias. Po­lice of­fi­cers in Dorset fre­quently sus­pect that black men like John­son deal drugs. In fact, if you are black and in Dorset you are 26.5 times more likely than a white per­son to be stopped and searched for drugs, and 20.4 times more likely to be tar­geted .

The in­ci­dent John­son de­scribes hap­pened three years af­ter Theresa May, then home sec­re­tary, told par­lia­ment that the mis­use of stop and search was “un­fair, es­pe­cially to young black men” and un­veiled a pack­age of re­forms to cor­rect long­stand­ing eth­nic dis­par­i­ties.

Her in­ter­ven­tion on such a di­vi­sive is­sue sig­nalled her am­bi­tion to be seen as a more lib­eral, in­clu­sive home sec­re­tary who was not afraid to take on the po­lice.

Yet a com­pre­hen­sive new anal­y­sis of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem re­veals such re­form has failed to ad­dress racial bias. Rather, it doc­u­ments a dis­qui­et­ing in­crease in eth­nic dis­par­ity in the polic­ing and prose­cu­tion of drug of­fences. The dis­pro­por­tional use of stop and search is now at its most pro­nounced since the power was in­tro­duced in 1984.

The anal­y­sis reaches a trou­bling con­clu­sion: the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in Eng­land and Wales is in­creas­ingly weighted to­wards a “fic­ti­tious nar­ra­tive” that drug use is es­pe­cially preva­lent among black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups.

Pub­lished to­day by the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence (LSE) and Stop­watch – a of aca­demics, lawyers, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions – along with Re­lease, a cen­tre of ex­per­tise on drugs and drugs law, the study re­veals that black peo­ple were stopped and searched at more than eight times the rate of white peo­ple in 2016/17. All 43 forces in Eng­land and Wales tar­geted black peo­ple us­ing stop and search at a higher rate than white peo­ple.

Re­bekah Del­sol, co-au­thor of the 88-page re­port, called for the in­tro­duc­tion of leg­is­la­tion to curb the use of stop and search. “Forces that can­not use stop and search fairly and ef­fec­tively should have the pow­ers taken away from them un­til they can show that they can be trusted to use these pow­ers ap­pro­pri­ately.”

She added: “The po­lice are clearly un­able or un­will­ing to deal with the prob­lem and a so­lu­tion needs to come from else­where. It is shock­ing that the sit­u­a­tion has got worse, not bet­ter.”

The anal­y­sis also shows that stop and search is in­creas­ingly used to find drugs, with al­most two-thirds of stop-searches tar­geted at il­le­gal sub­stances – up from half in 2010/11.

But this in­creased fo­cus has meant that black peo­ple were stopped and searched for drugs at al­most nine times the rate of whites – de­spite data that white peo­ple are like­lier to be found car­ry­ing drugs. The fact that the “find” rate for drugs is lower for black peo­ple of­fers proof, say ex­perts, that such searches are con­ducted on the ba­sis of “weaker grounds” for black peo­ple. Fur­ther down the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem – and against a back­drop of mount­ing calls to de­crim­i­nalise cannabis pos­ses­sion – black peo­ple were con­victed of cannabis pos­ses­sion at al­most 12 times the rate of white peo­ple, the anal­y­sis found.

It also re­veals that black peo­ple made up a quar­ter of those con­victed of cannabis pos­ses­sion, de­spite mak­ing up less than 4% of the pop­u­la­tion. The pro­por­tion is even more strik­ing as it is con­sid­ered that black peo­ple re­port us­ing cannabis at slightly more than half the rate of white peo­ple.

Over­all, more black peo­ple were pros­e­cuted last year for cannabis pos­ses­sion than the sup­ply of Class A or B sub­stances com­bined – with the bal­ance re­versed for white peo­ple.

Zoe Carre, an­other au­thor of the re­port, stated: “This is an ap­palling in­dict­ment of the crim­i­nal jus­tice syss­cious

tem, which is act­ing as a con­veyer belt for the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of young black peo­ple for low-level of­fend­ing, while treat­ing white peo­ple more le­niently for the same of­fences.” Else­where the data, also ex­am­ined and col­lated by the LSE’s in­ter­na­tional drugs pol­icy unit which works closely with gov­ern­ments on the is­sue, re­veals that black peo­ple were sen­tenced to im­me­di­ate cus­tody for drug of­fences at 9.1 times the rate of white peo­ple.

The find­ings of the study are likely to prompt re­newed calls for a new ap­proach to chal­leng­ing racial inequal­ity in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Al­though May’s par­lia­men­tary prom­ise in 2014 pre-empted a size­able re­duc­tion in the use of stop and search, the num­ber of ar­rests of black peo­ple for drugs has not fallen, ac­cord­ing to the re­search. Ni­amh East­wood, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Re­lease, said: “If Theresa May is se­ri­ous about tack­ling racial dis­par­ity in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem then she has to ad­dress drug law en­force­ment, which she has ab­jectly failed to do.”

In Lon­don dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity is high­est in bor­oughs of ex­treme inequal­ity. In Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea a black per­son is 6.9 times more likely to be stopped than a white per­son, com­pared with 1.8 in Ne­wham, one of the cap­i­tal’s most mul­ti­cul­tural bor­oughs. “This pat­tern is con­sis­tent with eth­nic pro­fil­ing be­cause it in­di­cates that black peo­ple are be­ing sin­gled out for sus­pi­cion,” said the re­port. Stop and search also ac­counts for a much larger pro­por­tion of ar­rests of black than white peo­ple: 17% com­pared with 5% for all of­fences, and 57% com­pared with 31% for drug of­fences. Such dis­par­i­ties, said the study, in­di­cate that the dis­pro­por­tion­ate ap­pli­ca­tion of stop and search is a func­tion of pol­icy and de­ci­sion-mak­ing rather than crime.

Lo­calised de­ci­sion-mak­ing has also led to dra­matic vari­a­tions re­gard­ing the fo­cus on drugs, with 82% of stop and searches in Mersey­side au­tho­rised for drugs com­pared with 46% in Durham, the low­est pro­por­tion.

De­spite ac­cu­sa­tions that stop and search pe­nalises black and other eth­nic mi­nori­ties, some - in­clud­ing the head of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice, Cres­sida Dick - have re­cently called for its de­ploy­ment to be in­creased.


No Coloureds, No Ir­ish, No Dogs BE­LOW The pat­tern of po­lice use of stop-and­search pow­ers is con­sis­tent with eth­nic pro­fil­ing, an ex­pert pointed out.


LEFT Theresa May, then home sec­re­tary, an­nounces re­form of stop and search pow­ers in the Com­mons in 2014.

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