A section of the Stop and Search forms, introduced after the publication of the Stephen Lawrence report to monitor the rate of use of these powers by individual police officers, are controversially to be scrapped.
The Home Office has decided that police will no longer be required to complete a form for stop and account but will still be required to do so for stop and search. This has lead to real fears that this could be the prelude to the abolition of all ethnic monitoring of police power.
This comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission threatens legal action against police forces who are unfairly targeting Black and Asian communities.
The European Court of Human Rights has also rejected an appeal by the Government, ruling that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which gave police the power to stop individuals without grounds of reasonable suspicion is unlawful.
The Equality Commission has recently written to five police forces threatening legal action if the over representation of huge numbers of innocent Black and Asian people who are routinely stopped and searched is not reduced.
The Commission published a damming report Stop and Think report in March 2010, which concluded that a number of forces were using the stop and search tactic in a way that is disproportionate and racist.
The report was a comprehensive review of the use of stop and search powers across England and Wales, looking at 42 policing areas over the past five years.
In 2007 / 2008 there were over 170,000 stop and searches conducted on Black people. If they had been stopped at the same rate as white people, there should have only been around 25,000 stops undertaken. That’s 145,000 innocent Black and Asian people who are unjustly subjected to the discriminatory use of the power.
The number of Black and Asian people stopped and searched by has increased by more than 70% over the past five years, according to Ministry of Justice figures.
They show that the police searched more than 310,000 black and Asian people in 2008/09, compared with 178,000 in 2004/05.
Police forces with some of the most disproportionate use of stop and search powers were Dorset, Leicestershire, West Midlands, Thames Valley and the Metropolitan police forces.
The Home Secretary announced the move ‘to do away with pointless bureaucracy and form-filling’ at the recent Police Federation annual conference, under the guise of cutting red tape.
The issuing of stop and search monitoring forms were used for all stops regardless of whether this lead to a search, and given to members of the public who are subject to the stops.
She also confirmed that she intends to return charging decisions to the police for minor offenses and to reform stop-and-search procedures, including scrapping the stop form entirely.
Current figures show quite clearly that Black people are 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people and the use of this power is still contentious in Black communities across the country. In London the number of African Caribbean and Asian primary school children stopped and searched by police doubled rising by 80% between April 2008 and March 2009. The figures show that the number of youngsters aged between 10 and 17 searched by police rose by 49% to 185,489 from 123,819 in 2007-8.
Ben Bowling, Professor of criminology and criminal justice at King’s College, London, said:
“Stop and search is a blunt tool which can do more harm than good, especially when it is targeted unfairly against children as young as 10. I’d like to see the evidence that London’s Black communities support the widespread searching of 10-year-olds. I think there must be a better way to keep our children safe.”
Where individual discretion is given to police officers and no ethnic monitoring is in place discrimination is routine.
This combined with returning the power of charging for low level crimes to police officers who already disproportionately charge first time Black suspects could lead to a massive increase in the number of Black people charged with low level criminal offenses.
Police ethnic profiling by the of Black and Asian people is now commonplace. To remove the requirement to monitor Stop and Account could lead to huge increases in the already grossly disproportionate stops conducted on Black people and result in an increase in the number of black people entering the criminal justice system”.
Evidence in policing show that where there is no monitoring discrimination thrives; this could set back police and Black community relations back years.