Stop and Search - Is It Working?

By Campaign Agent Joe Monk

The implications of stop and search give the police the power to stop individuals on the street who they deem to have engaged in recent criminal activity. Albeit, this must be based on reasonable suspicion, ensuring that the police have justifiable measures for conducting their search. Before the search is conducted, the police officers must follow certain protocols such as telling you their name and the station they operate from; reasons for the search; why they’re legally allowed to conduct the search, and that the individual being searched can obtain a record of the search. This seems a fair and reasonable procedure that the police should be allowed, to ensure the protection of citizens is maintained, and help to reduce the high levels of crime that continue to persist.

Nevertheless, there is much debate over how effective its implications are. London has recently seen a significant increase in the levels of knife crime, calling into question the ability of the police to carry out their duty. The Centre of Crime and Justice Studies produced results illustrating that stop and search hasn’t reduced knife crime in significant numbers, and is disproportionately used against racial minorities. Consequently, this calls into question how the police are basing their powers of reasonable suspicion to conduct this process. Although, this hasn’t stopped the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, from promising that there will be a “significant increase” in the use of stop and search powers in hope that it will combat rising levels of violent crime that has changed the landscape of the City of London. This is all well and good, and the Mayor is obviously under severe pressure to reduce the levels of crime, particularly knife crime, but a thorough strategic plan is needed rather than just pledging to expand the powers of stop and search.

The inertia of the lack of police forces means that stop and search powers need to be targeted effectively, and disregards Kahn’s incentives to increase powers when in reality there are a sufficient amount of police numbers in place to enforce them. In the era of austerity imposed by the coalition government, and subsequently followed by the latter two administrations, the police services have been hit severely. After the recent massacre of five stabbings taking place within days in London, Lord Blair stated it was no coincidence that this has coincided with a reduction in police funding, and this inadvertently leads to a lack in trust of the police given that they are unable to tackle the significant levels of knife crime that are a common theme in contemporary society. It seems an obvious solution for the government to resolve the high levels of knife crime, by investing more in the law enforcers to safeguard communities. Lack of resources means that police officers have to be placed in targeted areas were crime is very prominent. Thus, their presence is more notable in urban-city areas where there is a significant number of ethnic minorities. This has several implications. It causes unnecessary tension between the police and racial minorities, with the latter feeling that they are constantly being stereotyped and labelled as criminals, resulting in them living up to this self-fulfilling prophecy due to the lack of opportunities they face in areas disproportionately monitored by the police.

The effectiveness of stop and search doesn’t even counterbalance the lack of resources for police to be equally distributed. The public account select committee produced a report showing that the cuts in funding coincide with high levels of knife crime, in addition to crimes resulting in a charge or summons decreasing from 15% to 9% in the space of three years. The police are very much on the brink with their resources being depleted due to the imposition of austerity. It has even led the chief constable of the West Midlands, Dave Thompson, to state that the main elements of policing such as answering calls, attending to emergencies, and providing justice are becoming deeply ineffective.

It’s not only the police that are facing cuts in their budget, but also the education system and the NHS are being pushed to its limits with lack of resources debilitating their ability to perform their sole functions. These systems are essential to any part of a functioning and stable society. Police services aim to ensure law and order is maintained by acting as the law enforcers, but when statistics show increasing levels of violent knife crime becoming a common trend, it entrenches a worrying sight for communities, especially those that are more vulnerable to being victims of crime. Sadiq Khan is acting prematurely by declaring that stop and search powers will be extended given that they are already ineffective. Expanding this will only exacerbate the situation and cause further divide between communities and ethnic minorities. The obvious needs to be stated that more investment is needed in these fundamental areas. It seems that the underlying consequences of the Brexit negotiations has caused major distractions for politicians that they are missing concerning domestic matters that are happening right under their noses.

Sources and Further Reading:

GOV.UK, ‘Police powers to stop and search: your rights’, GOV.UK (2018)

Lizzie Dearden, ‘Stop and search has no real impact on reducing knife crime, research suggests’, Independent (28th November 2018)

Mark Townsend, ‘Tory police cuts behind wave of knife crime, says ex-Met chief’, The Guardian (10th November 2018)

Rajeev Syal, ‘Public confidence in police damaged by cuts, report warns’, The Guardian (7th November 2018)

Vikram Dodd ‘Policing at ‘tipping point’ over budget cuts, warns police chief’, The Guardian (10th October 2018)

Image: Paul Birnie @flickr

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