Policing / Stop and search


Posted on 04 Nov 2021

Ditching safeguards will lead to more stops, groups warn, and shows Home Secretary’s indifference to systemic police racism

  • Liberty and StopWatch warn ditching safeguards will lead to more stops
  • Move shows Home Secretary’s indifference to systemic police racism
  • Groups ready to launch legal action unless safeguards reinstated

Rights groups Liberty and StopWatch are taking legal action against the Home Secretary over her decision to ditch safeguards designed to limit discrimination in police use of stop and search powers.

The groups warned that getting rid of the safeguards risks being unlawful and will result in more people being stopped and searched – with Black people already up to 18 times more likely than white people to be subjected to ‘suspicionless’ stop and search.

Research, including by the College of Policing, has found that Section 60 (S60) stop and search – which allows officers to stop people and search them for weapons without needing reasonable grounds to suspect they are in possession of one – has no real effect on knife crime, and only 1% of searches result in a weapon being found.

In July this year the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the decision to scrap the safeguards in the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS). The safeguards were first introduced in 2014 by then Prime Minister Theresa May in a bid to address the high levels of racial disproportionality in stop and search – and which is most acute under S60.

Liberty and StopWatch warned the move to scrap the safeguards sent a worrying message about the Home Secretary’s indifference to systemic police racism, and the very high levels of racial disproportionality in police use of stop and search.

The groups have also criticised the Government’s drive to expand stop and search, with the Home Secretary announcing new powers for police to stop and search protestors, as well as new stop and search powers attaching to individuals under proposed civil Serious Violence Reduction Orders.

Liberty and StopWatch have called for the S60 BUSSS safeguards to be reinstated with immediate effect, and ultimately for the use of S60 stop and search to be ended for good.

In a letter to the Home Secretary threatening legal action, Liberty and StopWatch warned that:

  • Black people are already up to 18 times more likely than white people to be stopped and search by police under suspicionless S60 stops
  • Only around one per cent of stops resulted in weapons being found

The letter said the Home Secretary’s decision to get rid of the BUSSS safeguards is unlawful because:

  • Figures show that scrapping the BUSSS safeguards will result in more people being stopped and searched
  • The decision is based on the false premise that increasing stop and search reduces knife crime – despite the fact that research, including by the College of Policing, has found that Section 60 stop and search has no discernible effect on levels of knife crime
  • Losing safeguards will have a particularly detrimental effect on young Black men and boys
  • The Home Secretary has not published an equality impact assessment or review of any relevant pilot data, despite stating last year that the pilot was necessary to properly understand the equality impacts and the efficacy of S60 stop and search
  • Alternative, less intrusive policing methods are available

All police forces in England and Wales signed up to the BUSSS safeguards when they were originally introduced in 2014. In 2019 then Home Secretary Sajid Javid launched a pilot scheme which lifted two of the safeguards for seven forces. Shortly after Priti Patel extended the pilot to include all S60 safeguards and all police forces in England and Wales.

Habib Kadiri, StopWatch research and policy manager, said: ‘The Best Use of Stop and Search scheme was the first concerted effort by a Home Secretary in decades to tackle flagrant abuses of authority by police forces.

“The scheme showed some signs of progress too: when police operations were held to stricter standards, Section 60 use fell 99 per cent with no negative impact on knife crime, proving the redundancy of the vast majority of searches under the power.

“Developing trust among overpoliced communities depends on curbing police excesses and bringing their operations to heel. Removing the safeguards instead sends the message that the police can continue to harass those communities with racially discriminate practices using an almost wholly ineffective power.

“This must not be allowed to happen. We are determined to hold the police to account.”

Lana Adamou, Liberty lawyer working on the case, said: “We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the police have consistently shown that they do not use stop and search fairly or proportionately, so increasing these powers isn’t how we get there. Not only are Section 60 stops ineffective at detecting and reducing knife crime, they disproportionately target people of colour, particularly Black people. Widening police powers under Section 60 will worsen existing divisions between police and communities at a time when public trust and confidence in the police is at a serious low.

“Removing safeguards will see more young people of colour, including children, subjected to further coercion and control, and reveals the Home Secretary’s indifference to systemic and institutional police racism.

“Instead of handing the police ever greater powers, the Government should repeal suspicion-less stop and search powers like Section 60. We need community-led interventions through investment in health, education, housing and social welfare – and for those in power to work with communities to develop strategies for keeping all of us safe which have human rights at their heart.”

About Liberty:

Liberty challenges injustice, defends freedom and campaigns for everyone in the UK to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect. We’re an independent membership organisation, and our principles are guided by evidence and expertise – not political agenda, profit or popular opinion.

We use our voice in courtrooms, in the news, on the streets and in politics to demand and deliver lasting change to benefit the many and most marginalised.

Since 1934 we’ve inspired and empowered people to defend their rights, and the rights of their family, friends and communities. Join us. Stand up to power.

About StopWatch:

StopWatch is a coalition of legal experts, academics, citizens and civil liberties campaigners. We aim to address excess and disproportionate stop and search, promote best practice and ensure fair, effective policing for all.

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