During the last election, the Conservative party pledged to tackle knife crime around the UK. In their manifesto, they introduced the policy of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs). Under this policy, police officers would be able to repeatedly stop and search people who have a related previous conviction. The most concerning part is that, per the government website, “these searches could take place without suspicion so that these known criminals could be stopped at any time”.
Now, stop and search has been a divisive policy for decades, especially regarding the racial profiling of ethnic minorities. It was mentioned as a key cause of tensions in the wake of the murder trial of Stephen Lawrence in 1999, where the Metropolitan Police Service was accused of being institutionally racist.
This year, Black Lives Matter marches all over the world brought the issue of racial injustice to the forefront of the zeitgeist. This again highlighted the existence of institutional racism within police forces.
The data shows that this has continued to be an issue throughout the UK amongst all local police forces. Five regional police forces were chosen and analysed over an extended period: The Metropolitan police, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Dorset. This not only provides a geographical spread, but also gives a cultural variety, with a mix of rural and urban areas.
Stop and search seemed to peak overall during Operation Blunt II and reduced over the past decade. However, cumulative data from around the UK has shown that it started to rise again last year. This is illustrated in the graph below for the Met police, the UK’s largest police force. The measure of stop and search is the number of people per 1,000:
As alluded to in the above graph, the data suggests that ethnic minorities are targeted in higher proportions on a consistent basis. This is the case for all the geographical areas selected:
Black people have been targeted to a much higher level by this policy in all chosen areas. The only exception was in Cumbria between 2008/09, where Asian people were the highest proportion of those who were stopped and searched. What is critical here though, is that white people are stopped and searched much less as a proportion.
Ineffectiveness of stop and search
Even if the racial profiling of ethnic minorities is overlooked, stop and search does little to combat crime. The percentage of stop and searches that led to no further charges between November 2019-November 2020 in the selected areas was startlingly high:
Unfortunately, there was too much data from the Met Police for the previous calendar year. But the issue of no further charges has also been highlighted throughout different boroughs in London.
Patrick Green, CEO of the leading anti-knife charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, believes stop and search is an important police tactic in reducing crime. However, he has seen “no evidence to prove its effectiveness in reducing knife crime on its own”.
“If you want to reduce violent crime you need to take a wider public health approach to address the underlying issues that drive crime”.
The Ben Kinsella Trust place great emphasis on the need for education. They deliver anti-knife crime workshops for young people, aiming to prevent them from making the wrong choices.
The need for a more representative police force
Stop and search has alienated communities from the police after years of institutional racism that has painted them as criminals. SVRAs seem to signal a return to this policy.
Mr Green is aware that the disproportionate use of stop and search against non-white communities is “often cited as creating further barriers between BAME communities and the Police”.
The worldwide BLM movement of 2020 demanded a greater push for racial equality. If the government intend to take this matter seriously, then there should be a push for more representative police forces.
Again, the data shows how ethnic minorities are underrepresented in police forces from the selected areas:
As one can see, the percentage of ethnic minorities in the local population heavily outweighs the percentage of police officers who are ethnic minorities. The figures for the more urban regions are especially noteworthy, as the disparity is enormous. This does not reflect the areas they serve.
If one looks at the numbers for all areas of the UK, the same trend occurs:
The need for a diverse police force that reflects society is crucial for preventing institutional racism. There is an inherent bias that comes from your ethnic background and a diverse police force helps to nullify that. It allows for greater communication between different cultures. It will in turn lead to stronger relationships between ethnic communities and police officers, helping to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over many years.
This will never occur with current methods being used. It is a vicious circle; stop and search continues to alienate communities from the police and therefore people from those communities have no desire to join the police force.
As long as this policy remains, in its current form, it will undermine any effort to boost diversity. The government needs to re-evaluate its new strategy and realise the detriment it will have towards creating a more equal society. Educating police forces on why communities feel persecuted by stop and search could be beneficial.
Positive discrimination is the optimum way to boost diversity in police forces. The Met police – which is the UK’s largest police force – agreed in November last year to hire 40% of new recruits from BAME backgrounds from 2022 onwards. This is a step in the right direction.