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Black people in England and Wales six times more likely to be stopped and search by police than white people

In a number of reports released today, the UK government acknowledged that there has been an increase in stop and searches in the past year. According to the Home Office Stop and Search Team's Strategy Report, "Stop and search is a police power which, if used fairly and effectively, can play an important role in detecting and preventing crime and the fight against terrorism."

But they admit that the power is used increasingly in unfair ways:

This is under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which covers a number of race-related areas.The stop and search figures published under Section 95 for 2002/2003 show a continuing increase in the level of ‘disproportionality’ in the use of stop and search. They show that black people in England and Wales are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. This is compared with five times for 2001/2002."

The report states that:

869,164 ‘stop and searches’ of persons were recorded by the police in 2002/03, under section 1 of PACE and other legislation. 118,548 (14%) were of Black people, 58,831 (7%) of Asian and 11,468 (1%) of ‘Other’ origin. Across all police forces the number of stops and searches rose by 22% from 2001/02 (there were 713,700 ‘stop and searches’ in 2001/02). Numerically most of this rise was accounted for by an increase of 96,800 (17%) for White people. There were, however, higher rates of increase for Black people (38%), and Asian people (36%), a 47% increase for ‘Other’ minority ethnic groups and 17% for White people. There was an overall 33% increase in ‘stop and searches’ recorded by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), with little variation between ethnic groups in terms of the percentage rise in 2002/03."

There are fifteen laws that permit stop and search by the police. Most stops and searches are carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). Under PACE, police must have reasonable reasons for suspicion, based on facts, information, or intelligence. Searches can also take place under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 based on a 'reasonable belief' that within a certain area incidents involving serious violence may take place. Under the Terrorism Act 2000 searches are based on intelligence to prevent an act of terrorism; but also to look for items connected with terrorism, without a reason to suspect someone is carrying this type of item.

Specifically under the Terrorism Act 2000, the results are:

A total of 21,577 searches were made under s44 (1&2) compared with 8,550 in 2001/02. Searches of White people increased from 6,629 to 14,429 (up 118%), for Black people from 529 to 1,745 (up 230%) and for Asian people from 744 to 2989 (up 302%). 61% of searches took place in the MPS and 21% in the City of London. In 2002/03, 16,761 searches were made under s44 (1) compared with 7,604 in 2001/02. Only 11 arrests of vehicle occupants in connection with terrorism resulted from section 44(1) stops compared to 20 in the previous year. 6 out of the 11 arrests were classified as ‘Other’ ethnic appearance. Arrests for other reasons under this provision rose from 149 in 2001/02 to 280 in 2002/03 with 146 classified as White. However, the proportion of those arrested for ‘other reasons’ that were White fell from 74.5% to 52.1%, the proportion of Black people remained stable, whereas those in ‘Other’ minority ethnic groups increased. In both years most arrests under section 44(1) were in London.

The number of ‘stop and searches’ of pedestrians under section 44(2) increased four-fold from 946 in 2001/02 to 4,774 in 2002/03, most of the increase being accounted for by the MPS (nearly 3,300 additional stops). In 2002/03, just 63.3% of people stopped under section 44(2) were White, compared to 71.9% in 2001/02. In 2002/03 only 7 arrests (mainly Asian people) in connection with terrorism resulted from section 44(2) stops compared to none in the previous year. Arrests for other reasons under this provision rose from 20 in 2001/02 to 79 in 2002/03."

Acknowledging that something has gone wrong with the use of these powers. the Home Office is developing policy solutions. In their Stop and Search Guidance Document (available here) they admit that:

[M]inisters believe that disproportionality is too high so they have commissioned further work to understand the causes of disproportionality, and to identify the best ways to reduce it.

As a result, we set up a Stop and Search Action Team (SSAT) to carry out this work. SSAT aims to make sure that the police force use the stop-and-search power fairly and as effectively as possible to prevent and detect crime. Specifically, SSAT will aim to increase the confidence that the black and minority ethnic (BME) community have in the way the police use this power, and where appropriate, reduce disproportionality."

 

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