Category: Stop and Search

The Realities of Stop & Search

This article by Estelle du Boulay appears issue 33 of Agenda, the magazine of Race on the Agenda (ROTA)

For a period of about twenty-four hours after the release of the Home Secretary’s report on the ‘Tackling Knives Action Programme’ in December 2008, the police tactic of using stop and search as an effective means of catching criminals seemed to finally to shaken off the controversy that has clung to it since criticism by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1998. Stop-and-search works, the government said. But within a day of ministers claiming a victory in its fight against a weapons-culture amongst young people, accusations were mounting of manipulation of the statistics. If stop and search is genuinely effective, critics asked, why spin the evidence? Where were the real figures to back it up the claims for its use?

Mayor’s commitment to increased Stop & Search is ‘ill-considered and gung-ho’


Boris Johnson’s support of plans to increase police stop and search powers is “ill-considered and gung-ho” according to east London anti-racist organisation Newham Monitoring Project (NMP).

Whilst NMP welcomes GLA commitment to finding new ways to address gun and knife crime, it questions why the Mayor is not seeking to address the continued failure of controversial stop and search powers to effectively tackle crime.

A spokesperson for NMP today said:

“If Boris Johnson wishes to address gun and knife crime, he needs to first carefully examine why current police powers, which are some of the toughest in Europe, are failing to deal with this issue effectively. If the police do not have to apply reasonable suspicion, what grounds they will use to determine who they stop and search? Selecting individuals based on appearance and ethnicity is fundamentally flawed, will criminalise and alienate communities and is ultimately likely to fail like the hated Sus laws that were abolished in the 1980’s.

If the Mayor wishes to honour his election pledges he must not rush to try and impress voters in his first few weeks with an attempt at quick fix solutions and must address the underlying problems of community tensions with the police, particularly around racial profiling.

Black people continue to be 7 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched and Asians twice as likely.* Statistics relating to prosecutions from stop and search continually demonstrate it is not an effective tool in tackling crime, particularly compared to intelligence-based policing. There is no evidence that extending these powers will make any positive difference or that the wider public will be any safer.

Our experience of working with young people over the past 25 years is that if you are a young black male you are likely to find yourself repeatedly stopped by the police when you are simply going about your day. Many of the people we talk to have been stopped in excess 20 times without any real justification and it has not led to any charges or prosecutions; surely this is hours of wasted police time. We have always argued that intelligence-based policing alongside real dialogue and engagement with communities is the best approach to building trust and addressing complex issues, whether that be gun and knife crime or tackling terrorism. We call on the Mayor to demonstrate his commitment to tackling crime by meeting with us and the local youth and community groups we work with to discuss and learn about the real experience and suggestions of Londoners in relation to this issue.”

* Stop and search figures from Ministry of Justice Data for 2006, released Oct 2007.

Notes for Editors:

Newham Monitoring Project, established in 1980, is an independent community-based organisation which supports people experiencing racial harassment and /or discrimination from statutory organisations. It is a leading campaigning voice around issues of racism/policing, best known for its work with the families of Stephen Lawrence, Jean Charles de Menezes and the Forest Gate terror-raid families.

Jarrett’s increased ‘Stop and Search’ would be a return to ‘Sus’ laws

The suggestion to stop young people because they are most likely to be “victims of, and the perpetrators of, a lot of these [sic: gun & knife] crimes” would lead to racial profiling and in effect be the ‘the reintroduction of the hated ‘sus’ laws’, say east London anti-racism campaigners Newham Monitoring Project (NMP).

NMP believes the suggestions of Keith Jarrett, president of the National Black Police Association, run the risk of criminalising a new generation of young people and becoming a new focus of resentment.

A spokeperson for NMP today said:

“Black communities continue to experience disproportionate targeting under stop & search causing tension and distrust of the police. Jarrett should be suggesting ways to engage with black communities, rather than alienate them further, to really fight gun and knife crime.

The Lawrence Inquiry found ‘the perception and experience of minority communities that discrimination is a major element in the stop and search problem is correct.’ This led to the introduction of mechanisms for police accountability – through recording and issuing receipts – in order to try and prevent the random stopping of individuals without any justifiable basis, or based merely on appearance. Now under the guise of the ‘fighting gun and knife crime’, the NBPA seems determined to turn back the clock.

Statistics relating to prosecutions from stop and search continually demonstrate it is not an effective tool in tackling crime, particularly compared to intelligence-based policing. There is no evidence that extending these powers will make any positive difference or that the wider public will be any safer.”

Notes to Editors

  1. For more information, contact Estelle at Newham Monitoring Project on 020 8470 8333/ 07709 656 251
  2. NMP is a leading independent anti-racist organisation in east london providing support to people around issues of race-hate crime, police misconduct and civil injustice. Recent work of NMP’s includes being the main organisation supporting the families involved in the Forest Gate Raids and supporting the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.