A Controversial History: Will Police Chief Plans to Increase Stop and Search Powers Combat Knife Crime?

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Always writing to broaden my own mind as well as others.

A rise in violence on London streets has led to new debates over the best way to combat knife crime, with Police Chief’s proposing an expansion of controversial stop and search powers.

Senior officials within the National Police Chief’s Council NPCC are in talks over lifting the requirements for “reasonable grounds” in stop and searches. Adrian Hanstock, the National lead on stop and search, confirmed his plans on Sunday.

Despite ongoing concerns over racial profiling and disproportionality in stop and search, the home secretary Sajid Javid has expressed his support for Hanstock’s proposal.

But what is the history of England’s stop and search and where is the proof that it is effective?

A Brief History of Powers

There are six main stop and search reforms that have occurred in England and Wales since 1984.

  • The Police and Criminal Evidence Act PACE 1984
  • Public Order Act 1994
  • Terrorism Act 2000
  • Recommendation 61 2002
  • The European Court of Human Rights Ruling 2010
  • Theresa May’s Reforms 2014

PACE 1984 attempted to add safeguards to controversial ‘sus’ laws, which previously allowed Police to arrest individuals for broadly being a ‘suspected person.’ The new legislation, under section one, standardized reasonable grounds for stop and search. It required police to provide both an explanation and a written record of reasons and outcomes.

The Public Order Act of 1994 introduced section 60, which eradicated a need for “reasonable grounds” in situations where police anticipated that violence had occurred or may occur in a zone.

The Terrorism Act of 2000 introduced Sections 44/47A, enabling police to carry out intuitive searches to find items connected to terrorism.

The Macpherson Report of 1999 recorded a direct link between ‘institutionalised racism’ and stop and search. As a result, Recommendation 61 came into effect in 2002. The new code required a detailed written report including a reason for search, an outcome and a self-defined ethnicity for the individual stopped.

In January 2010, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that stop and searches enacted under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act were unlawful as “reasonable grounds” were not a requirement in these.

In 2014, Theresa May proposed a series of reforms that were rejected by parliament. However, 43 police forces signed up to a voluntary scheme that restricted controversial “no suspicion powers” under section 60.  May also reintroduced written records and data keeping that the home office had been reducing over several years.

Disproportionality and Unfair Profiling

Stop and Search proposals consistently strive to reform the bureaucracy of data keeping, to manage evident disparities in ethnic profiling.

Recent government statistics report that in 2016-2017 “there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 29 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people.” The likelihood of Black people being stopped rose from 4 times that of white people in 2014/2015 to 8 times more in 2016/2017.

The 1999 Macpherson Report looks at the disproportionality of stop and search and concludes that it is a result of overt xenophobia. The report criticises the low visibility and high-discretion police power for benefitting institutionalised racism.

Structural explanations consider complex facets like ‘available population’ and ‘suspect descriptions’ to determine how directly disproportionate statistics are. It concludes that disproportionality can be indirectly influenced by the selection of area, specific time of day, choice of vehicle or even the description given on the individual. Findings like these have caused scepticism over how directly racist stop and search is.

Critics of structural explanation note that stereotyping can influence the areas and street populations chosen for stop and search, as ethnic minorities tend to group in certain zones.

Is stop and search effective?

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told Radio 4’s Today programme in April that there was no evidence that the “indiscriminate” stop and search power was an effective way of tackling any crime.

An analysis by the College of Policing in 2017 found “that higher rates of stop and search were occasionally followed by very slightly lower rates of crime.” The key words here are “occasionally” and “very slightly” that partially support Abbott’s claims of inconsistency.

The Government’s Serious Violent Strategy Report of 2018 also recognises that gun crime, knife crime and homicide rates increase as stop and search decreases. However, it fails to find a persuasive link, acknowledging that knife crime fell in 2010-11 and 2013-14 during periods of falling in stop and search.

Alternative Methods

Stop and Search can create deep-rooted resentment between police and communities, especially amongst ethnic minorities. Evidence of stop and search’s limited effectiveness emphasises how it is not a solution for the intricacy of London’s knife crime. But what are the alternative methods?

Early intervention in impoverished areas can be a crucial deterrence for the future. Funding single mothers, schools, education and apprenticeship programs, counselling and social projects could help fix sociological issues. Police budget increases into imperative policing programs can potentially create a stronger framework for justice. Moreover, arguments supporting legalising drugs as a prevention for street crime have become more popular.


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Always writing to broaden my own mind as well as others.

A Controversial History: …

by Romy time to read: 3 min