Lots of welcoming this week for Home Secretary Theresa May’s decision to review the police’s use of Stop and Search powers.
May rightly says that the power to see what people are up to is “a vital police tool” but, echoing words of the London Assembly and now-defunct Metropolitan Police Authority and London Assembly, warns that overuse “erodes community confidence in the police.”
Her review has been welcomed by London Assembly and former MPA member Jenny Jones who, alongside colleagues from all City Hall parties, has been a vocal critic of the Met’s past overuse of the powers.
Acknowledging the current Met leadership team’s “real progress in reducing the amount of wasteful stop and search”, Jones says that it’s not just the number of stops which give cause for concern, but the quality.
She adds: “when stop and search has to be done, it should be done with extreme politeness.”
The tone of ‘stops’ and the behaviour of officers is something that Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and his team have discussed with the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee.
Hogan-Howe last year told AMs that Stop and Search catches wrongdoers only in the minority of cases and said that the Met needed to move towards a more intelligence-led approach.
But even with intelligence leading the way, the Met’s own figures show that the “positive outcome rate (arrested/given cannabis warnings) from stop searches has risen from 13.9 per cent in January 2012 to 18.5 per cent in February 2013”.
This means that over 80% of those stopped were found to be doing and carrying nothing illegal.
The Commissioner has also said that changes in the Met’s recruitment practices, notably steps to recruit more officers from London who understood the sensitivities of London’s various communities, would also see officers’ attitudes change.
The importance of addressing community concerns is vital – the Met’s own statement welcoming May’s review says:
“Latest financial year [April 2012-March 2013] figures for Section One searches (the vast majority of searches carried out by the MPS) show white black disproportionality is now 1: 2.4. This means one white person is being stopped for every 2.4 black people being stopped. For same time period, white Asian disproportionality is now are parity, 1: 1.0, which is one white person being stopped for one Asian person being stopped.”
In a lengthy statement, the Met says it “accepts there is disproportionality in the use of stop and search”.
Commander Adrian Hanstock, MPS lead for stop and search. adds: “The causes are complex and it is important we understand those causes and scrutinise it to ensure it is not used in a discriminatory manner.”
It’s encouraging that the Met’s leadership sees this and the overall number of unsuccessful ‘stops’ as areas which needs further improvement.
But maybe the force would seem a little less keen on randomly stopping and delaying overwhelmingly innocent Londoners if it didn’t feature a PCSO apparently conducting a stop within the lovely montage adorning its new website?
It does somewhat confuse the message.