November 2021: Whack-A-Mole campaigning
As StopWatch hold back the tide of stop and search legislation in one area, the government looks to expand it in another
As we approach the end of the year, we bring you glad tidings slightly ahead of schedule: we won a concession from the government without having to go to court! Home secretary Priti Patel rowed back on a decision to ‘ditch safeguards designed to limit discrimination in police use of stop and search powers’, thanks to our legal challenge made in partnership with Liberty (read on for more info).
However, the government is pushing to expand stop and search powers elsewhere, this time for protesters in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. November has very much been a microcosm of the Whack-A-Mole campaigning mode we find ourselves in under this government, but unexpected victories prove that fighting injustice is worth every effort.
Topics in this newsletter include:
Home Office forced to climbdown on relaxation of section 60 restrictions announced in July, thanks to court challenge from StopWatch and Liberty
New annual stop and search figures reveal burden on young people, while racial disparity persists
Brum PCC says stop and search ‘not good enough’, vowed to improve find and arrest rates
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
A victory, of sorts
This month, StopWatch joined forces with Liberty to launch a legal challenge to home secretary Priti Patel’s announcement to abolish all restrictions on police forces’ use of section 60 in July.
But, before we even began to raise funds for the impending court case, the Home Office decided to row back on the decision.
Nadine White @Nadine_WritesExclusive: Home Office sued over racially disproportionate, new stop and search rules. @libertyhq @StopWatchUK https://t.co/M9ft0rfxsA
This means that the safeguards over police use of the power have reverted to the pre-July position of being suspended rather than permanently removed.
Patel admitted to us in a letter that the equality impact assessment which informed the decision was inadequate, and that the matter would be reconsidered before any further decision is made over the future of the safeguards.
This is all good news, of course, but we are wary of treating the climbdown as an out-and-out victory: this government is still committed in several ways to helping the police avoid scrutiny over the effectiveness of their actions whilst increasing their stop and search powers.
For instance, the government continues to insist that stop and search works, in stark contrast to the Home Office’s own statistics (also released this month) and to the police and crime commissioner of the third biggest force in England and Wales (West Midlands police) who believes that the current find rates are ‘not good enough’ (Birmingham Mail, 02 Nov).
Furthermore, 4 months on from the July announcement, we still await the appearance of any results from the pilot that expanded the use of the power in the first place, other than the admission that it ‘gave police officers greater confidence to make use of the power’.
Worse still, in the parallel universe that is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the government has seen fit to slip in a whole new raft of police powers and orders to criminalise those who might happen to cause serious disruption (The Independent, 25 Nov), including the power to stop and search anyone at a protest ‘without suspicion’ and confiscate items in their possession if it is ‘reasonably believed’ that they may ‘lock on’ or obstruct major transport works.
We’ve warned that the new proposals manifest this government’s unhealthy obsession with stop and search and a disregard for protest as an ancient British civil liberty. One blogpost suggests that for all the connotations with section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, these proposals may be closer to section 44/47 terrorism legislation in spirit.
They are also so widely drawn that we cannot help but fear that they will be used disproportionately on ethnic minorities from marginalised communities.
Ultimately, the government’s actions betray a pattern of behaviour that increasingly displays a contempt for checks and balances on police power. Communities have a right to expect better from their police force and the government has a duty to meet their expectations of safety and transparency in dispensing justice. The least we could do is take them to court. And if needs must, we will again.
Stop and search, a young person’s burden
New annual stop and search figures released by the Home Office show that police forces in England and Wales carried out more than 700,000 searches (under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) in England and Wales in the year to 31 March 2021, an increase of 22%.
Almost all searches were conducted under section 1 powers (695,009), with the aim of looking for drugs in the vast majority of instances (69%), but – as in previous years – ‘no further action’ was taken in three quarters (79,391, or 77%) of cases.
The proportion of searches aiming to uncover offensive weapons (12%) and stolen property (8%) fell from a quarter to a fifth, and the arrest rate fell for a third consecutive year (to 11%).
The annual number of section 60 searches halved, from 18,043 to 9,320. However, find and arrest rates remained very low, with the arrest rate sticking at 4%.
Taken together, the total number of searches reached its highest level since 2013/14 (876,334), just before the introduction of the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme was introduced.
We have a tweet thread below summarising the most interesting findings for the TL;DR crowd.
The nationals reported the rise in the overall numbers and the typically large gap in racial disparity rates of searches between White and Black people, now at 7.1x difference, compared with 8.9x in 2019/20.
Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, told Sky News (18 Nov) that the statistics ‘prove once again that police have overused and abused stop and search powers, making life harder and more dangerous for certain communities, and particularly Black men.’
The report also shed light on a moral panic raised around police-perceived antisocial behaviour of children and young adults, fuelled by a technique which appears to harass them into the criminal justice system’s clutches.
Children accounted for roughly a sixth of all searches where the age of the person searched was provided (115,678 out of 678,389). But only 8.4% of those searches resulted in arrests (9,753 out of 115,678).
Within this, the relatively high search rates for teenage males of colour is of particular concern:
The highest rate of stop and search was for males aged 15-19 who belong to a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic group, who were searched at a rate of 208 per 1,000 people, a rate 3.0 times higher than White people of the same age group.
Sergeant Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association, told The Independent (18 Nov) that the fact ‘one in five young people from ethnic minority backgrounds were stopped is a shocking fact and policing must look at why four out of five searches result in no further action and how the style and tone of some stops may be pushing an entire community away.’
One important change to the data was the introduction of a distinction between both the ‘officer observed’ ethnicity and ‘self-defined’ ethnicity of the person searched. This was to compensate for the increasingly significant absence of recorded ethnicity in police records. In 2020/21, the level of missing ethnicity data (self-defined) was 19%, up on the previous year (17%), having steadily increased since the year ending March 2014 (when it was 5%).
As a result of these changes, the headline ‘disparity’ figure is now renamed ‘raw disparity’. Whichever way it is defined, Black and other minority ethnic groups continue to bear the brunt of heavy handed policing. Compared with stops of White people, the self-defined (or raw) disparity for all stop and searches in the year ending 31 March 2021 reads as follows (illustrated):
Black (or Black British): 7.1x
Asian (or Asian British): 2.6x
Other Ethnic Group: 1.6x
This is largely down to White people accounting for the largest volume increase in stop and searches. However, using ‘officer-observed’ ethnicity in place of self-defined ethnicity (when the latter is ‘not stated’), the differential in disparity rates grows much larger among Black people in particular, at 8.7x (vs 7.1x for self-defined ethnicity).
The pandemic effect
Katrina Ffrench, the director of Unjust UK, observed how this year’s figures were driven in large part by the spike in searches during the UK’s first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ffrench told the Guardian (18 Nov) that ‘when crime rates declined at a time of a global pandemic, officers decided that increasing searching would be an effective use of resources’. Yet, overall arrest rates declined 2 percentage points on the previous year. As Ffrench pointed out:
The data doesn’t lie. Black communities are clearly not receiving a fair service and their experiences of being over-policed aren’t imagined or contrived. What a missed opportunity to support communities – the phrase “overpoliced, unprotected” comes to mind.
This is a truth that strikes at the heart of the Home Office’s defence that ‘stop and search is a vital tool for police to protect the public’ and that the racial disparity in searches is in response to the fact that ‘young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime’.
They say that no one should be targeted for stop and search because of their race, but the combination of low and declining arrest rates, the consistently high proportion of searches resulting in no further action taken, and the fact that the majority of searches conducted are ‘self-generated’, suggest that is exactly what is happening throughout England and Wales. As our research and policy manager Habib Kadiri remarked, ‘the vast majority of stop and searches cause more problems than they solve’ and ultimately the persistence of racial disparities even during a global pandemic proves that ‘the police never stopped working tirelessly to overpolice people of colour’ (Justice Gap, 19 Nov).
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The jury at the inquest into the death of Abdul Hamid following contact with and restraint by West Midlands police and members of the public on 01 May 2020 found that Abdul died due to the chain of events following a road traffic collision he was involved in (INQUEST, 29 Oct).
Abdul's family said of the verdict: ‘Whilst nothing will ever bring Abdul back, we have been able to obtain some answers. Our views as to the truth of what happened to Abdul have become clearer as a result of hearing all of the evidence at the inquest. We remain horrified that such a thing could ever be allowed to happen. It is important to us as a family, and indeed the wider public, that those who had a role to play in Abdul’s death are brought to justice.’
Steven Richard O’Neill
The inquest into O’Neill’s death following a North Yorkshire police chase was ‘misadventure’, according to assistant coroner Jonathan Leach (INQUEST, 12 Nov).
O’Neill’s family raised concerns about the safety of the river and responses of police to people at risk of drowning.
O’Neill’s mother said: ‘As a family we are hugely disappointed by this conclusion… We truly believe that Steven’s death could have been prevented. He was treated as a suspect and not a victim. As soon as he entered the water, he should have been treated as vulnerable. No efforts were made by emergency services to try and save or protect him. It was shocking that the coroner refused to consider the actions of the police, who we feel acted without humanity.
We hope that going forward the police will reflect on their shortcomings and look to improve the way they respond in these emergencies. We hope no other family has to experience the hell we’ve been through. Steven's death leaves a huge hole in our family that will never be filled.’
The coroner is seeking further evidence from the police and is considering writing a prevention of future deaths report.
An inquest at Birmingham and Solihull Coroner’s Court has concluded, finding Trevor Smith’s fatal shooting by West Midlands firearms officers in March 2019 to be a ‘lawful killing’ (INQUEST, 16 Nov). Smith’s family have raised serious concerns about the findings, saying that they are particularly concerned and dismayed that the officers involved insisted they would not have changed their approach.
In a joint statement, they said: ‘While acknowledging that within the parameters of the law, a ruling of “lawful killing” is appropriate, we do not feel that the judgement exonerates West Midlands Police Firearms Operations Unit.
We are very disappointed that the jury found no opportunity to be critical of any aspect the police operation. We have serious concerns about the operation including police conduct and use of inappropriate language, poor negotiating skills, decision-making, and leadership.
Our primary hope from the outset was for the inquest to provide answers as to what happened on the morning of 15 March 2019. Instead it has raised serious questions about how the police engage with people with mental ill health, as was the case for Trevor… We ask questions, we ask for answers, we ask for change and reform, so that another life may not be lost at the hands of WMP, and another family not need to suffer and grieve.’
An inquiry into the death of a man in police custody will consider ‘at every stage’ whether the fact that he was Black made a difference to his treatment (Daily Record, 18 Nov). Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015 after being restrained by officers responding to a call in Kirkcaldy, Fife.
Bayoh’s family claimed race played a part in his death and criticised the subsequent investigation. The current inquiry, which open in November 2020, is considering issues including the circumstances of the death, the post-incident management and the extent to which events leading up to and following Mr Bayoh's death were affected by his actual or perceived race.
Angela Grahame QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, said there will be no more than 6 hearings, the last of which will cover race in order to allow inquiry chairman Lord Bracadale to consider ‘whether an inference may be drawn that race was a factor in the death of Sheku Bayoh, the post-incident management or the subsequent investigations’. The first public hearing is due to start on 10 May 2022.
More cops won’t solve anything: Government pledges should address the root causes of crime – poverty, cuts to youth services and welfare, and millions wasted on a failed drugs policy – rather than simply bulk up police forces, writes former police officer Nick Glynn in The Independent (01 Nov).
Brum PCC says stop and search ‘not good enough’: Simon Foster is concerned that use of stop and search – which disproportionately targets black and Asian people – is eroding trust in his force, and has questioned whether the poor find and arrest rates are worth the reputational damage done to the force in minority communities (Birmingham Live, 02 Nov).
The police and crime commissioner has vowed to improve success rates as part of his new Police and Crime Plan, which stand at ‘only about 25 to 30%’.
Scrutiny panel expands remit: A major expansion of independent scrutiny around stop and search powers and use of force has been launched by Bedfordshire police (Police Professional, 12 Nov). The remit of the scrutiny panel has been extended to oversee officers and staff working in specialist tri-force armed and roads policing units, as well as dog units. It marks the second new panel to be established this year, with Bedfordshire’s stop and search scrutiny panel having recently set up a new group to analyse the police’s use of force in the county.
Schoolboy error: A 14-year-old black schoolboy has accused the Metropolitan police of racist targeting after claiming he has been stopped by police about 30 times in the last two years (The Guardian, 15 Nov). He has not been charged with or convicted of any offence.
Responding to the accusations, a Metropolitan police spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of two complaints received in respect of the stop and search of a 14-year-old boy… Both complaints relate to the use of force by officers in the course of stop and search. The mother of the juvenile has been contacted by police to discuss the complaints. Professional standards officers from the south-west command unit and the violent crime taskforce are conducting the inquiries.’
A sus law by any other name is still as bad: Avon and Somerset Lammy Group chair Desmond Brown says new stop and search powers included in the Police and Crime Bill will entrench a lack of trust in the police (Bristol Cable, 18 Nov).
Brown likened PCSC Bill proposals to bring in Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), which would allow police to stop and search people who’ve got a knife crime conviction without the ‘reasonable grounds’ normally required, to section 60 suspicionless search powers.
Brown told the paper that section 60 ‘is “sus” under a different name’.
Can you identify racism if you haven’t seen it? The head of a national police action plan on race has said she has never ‘personally seen’ an officer been racist (Independent, 19 Nov).
Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson made the admission while addressing delegates at a National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) conference.
An anonymous member of the audience, which included senior officers and police and crime commissioners from across the country, asked how an action plan on race could be ‘led by someone who has never seen an act of racism in their entire career’.
Pearson replied: ‘I don’t profess to have the lived experience some of my colleagues will have had in policing but I think it’s beholden on all of us to actively pursue creating a police service that can be truly anti-racist.’
When pressed on the issue, Pearson said she ‘couldn’t readily think of an example’ of racism in the force, which saw an officer convicted of joining a neo-Nazi terrorist group this year.
The action plan was announced in June 2020, but the conference was told that it was ‘still in draft form’ and would not be released this year.
Have your say on new MOPAC crime plan: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan invites Londoners to have their say on his new draft Police and Crime Plan, which sets out his priorities to make the capital a safer city, and for Londoners to feel safer (16 Nov). You can:
Take part in a survey and discussions on the Talk London website.
Register to take part in online workshops on your policing and crime priorities.
Share your views via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to us at MOPAC, 169 Union Street, London SE1 0LL
The consultation runs until 21 January 2022.
Section 60 watch*
Wellingborough (19 Nov)
Ipswich and Felixstowe (20 Nov)
* This is not a comprehensive list
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