In a statement aimed at all 43 forces in England and Wales, Suella Braverman has told police to ramp up ‘stop and search.’ She said officers who used the powers had her “full support” and claimed the measure would “prevent violence and save more lives”. She also called on forces to publish bodycam footage quickly to stop police facing ‘trial by media’. In her effort to appeal to her increasingly bigoted base, she has focused on yet another issue known to have a disproportionate and distressing impact on people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds. The evidence is stark and the consequences are not unintended.
According to a National Stop and Search Learning Report, people from Black and ethnic minorities are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, with young minority ethnic males experiencing the highest rate of stops. The Home Office report said: “Males aged 15-34 from a BAME background account for 32% of stop and search in the year ending March 2021, despite only comprising 2.6% of the population.” Of course, behind the statistics are the experiences of individuals with one report from the Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) citing the example of a Black youngster who was stopped and searched more than 60 times between the ages of 14 and 16.
There is no doubt that many forces see ‘stop and search’ as a legitimate policing tactic, and the powers have been described as ‘an important tool in dealing with knife crime and drugs.’ However, the same Home Office data shows that, of the 695,009 stop and searches carried out during the year ending March 2021, 77% had a recorded outcome of ‘No further action’. The same report qualifies its acceptance as it being a ‘legitimate tool’ by highlighting the fact that its disproportionate use against people from a Black, Asian, or other minority ethnic backgrounds, particularly young Black men, has been a concern for many years, and it remains one of the most contentious policing powers. Research shows that these can combine to create a loss of trust and legitimacy in policing, marginalisation, exclusion, and in some circumstances can hinder the flow of crime-related intelligence from witnesses. It has also been recorded that Section 60 stop and searches, which do not require reasonable grounds for suspicion, were used up to eight times more on Black people than white people in London in 2019-20.
It is hard to believe that Suella Braverman is unaware of just how contentious her framing of this intervention is. In many respects it suggests a need to stoke the race and cultural divides that already exist in order to try and stop people looking for the real reason that knife crime continues to rise across the UK as a whole. Twelve years of Tory rule has left both our cities and rural towns impoverished and crumbling, with the younger generation saying they no longer feel safe on our streets. At the same time, there are 8000 fewer police officers than there were in 2010.
So, during the week that we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation being invited to Britain to help rebuild the country after World War II, their children and grandchildren continue to face racism, discrimination, and hardship in the country they chose to call home. Contentious and inefficient policing strategies will not tackle the increase in crime. The eradication of poverty and the restoration of many of our lost youth services and facilities would go a long way towards creating safer communities, along with the support of a well-trained police force that works with the people they serve, not against them.
Suella Braverman needs to learn from her predecessors. Misusing a police strategy with known negative consequences for marginalised groups is likely to come back and bite her hard. She will not be able to say that she has not been warned.