Following the verdict of lawful killing in the inquest into Mark Duggan’s death last week, it would appear Theresa May is set to suggest that Police should carry out fewer stop and searches, carry them out with greater respect and crack down on officers unlawfully using their powers.
She is also considering reforms to the stop and search powers in an attempt to limit the damage their usage inflicts on community relations. The Home Office has recently finished consulting on the use of stop and search, a power that many will argue is used disproportionately against ethnic minorities.
One suggestion currently being considered by May is limiting the use of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which allows an officer to stop someone without needing reasonable suspicion they are involved in a crime in certain situations.
Other searches carried out by officers, for example, under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, require reasonable grounds to suspect that that person, or a person inside that vehicle, is in possession of controlled drugs. Some senior Police officers fear the Government may remove the controversial powers that section 60 gives to officers totally, although others suggest this is unlikely.
Research carried out by criminologist Dr. Ben Bradford of Oxford University, to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, found that the rate of stop and searches of black people doubled in a decade after 1999. This was despite the publication that year of Sir William Macpherson’s report on the Lawrence case, which found the Metropolitan Police in London to be “institutionally racist”.
Ethnic minority Britons were subjected to nearly one and a half million more stop and searches in the 10 years after the Macpherson inquiry than if the Police had treated them the same as white people between 1999 and 2009. The rate of stop and search against black persons during that period also doubled.
A report commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published in July 2013 says that approximately 30 out of the 43 forces in England and Wales do not understand how to use stop and search powers effectively nor the impact their use has on the local communities. Furthermore it found that in over 25% of stops officers did not have reasonable suspicion, as required, and may not fully understand their powers. As Police Chiefs reacted to the verdict last week, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that more needed to be done on stop and search.
“We do have a particular concern about our relationship with younger members of the black community. That’s why since I became commissioner I have significantly reduced the use of stop and search. We rarely use the powers [section 60] we have to do blanket searches across an area, and concentrate on searching where we have intelligence to suggest we should.”
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“Nobody should ever be stopped just on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity.
“The Government supports the ability of Police officers to stop and search suspects, but it must be applied fairly and in a way which builds community confidence.”
The Metropolitan Police also said it would start trialing firearms officers wearing small video cameras in an effort to improve public confidence and, they hope, make it quicker to prove their accounts are truthful. Police hope to start testing of the new cameras by April 2014.