In July and August, JUST West Yorkshire wrote to the Home Secretary and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as part of the Race Equality Coalition (CORE) about the Home Office’s consultation on Stop and Search, launched in July 2013. We shared the concerns expressed, on 2nd July 2013, by MPs in their House of Commons’ debate on this consultation; there was cross party support for meaningful engagement with those most affected by Stop and Search.
JUST was concerned that the Home Office’s consultation would not reach enough of those that are disproportionately affected by stop and search (e.g. young black men). Following a joint approach by CORE, JUST was one of 10 organisations to receive funding to reach out to those disproprortionately affected by stop and search and feed into the consultation process.
The results of this local engagement work
JUST reached over 45 people, predominantly young people under the age of 25 who were unaware of the consultation and therefore would not have responded despite the disproportionate impact on young people. CORE members produced 10 local research reports and 10 local submissions to the Home Office and we also produced an overall submission.
Key findings – general
The majority of participants had serious concerns about: a) the nature and quality of Stop and Search encounters; b) damage to community relations; and c) police non-compliance with the law, rules and guidelines on Stop and Search.
Some felt that stop and search powers should be repealed; most felt that they needed to be reformed. There was concern that police action should be both fair and rational and must be perceived to be so by individuals and wider society. Furthermore, participants argued that Stop and Search should come under close examination due to its lack of focus and its poor outcomes in terms of arrest rates, crime reduction and adverse community relations.
Key findings: Nature and quality of encounters and damaging community relations
a. The operation of Stop and Search described by many participants is at variance with individuals’ legal rights including their human rights and rights under relevant equality provisions.
b. Many participants referred to the police and their implementation of Stop and Search as abusive, aggressive, intimidatory, racist and unfair.
c. The exercise of Stop and Search powers can be intrusive, embarrassing, humiliating, intimidating and frightening for the individual concerned and represent an invasion of liberty and privacy.
d. Significant levels of frustration are being built up in those disproportionately impacted upon by Stop and Search.
e. Stop and Search powers can and have been abused.
f. Police officers do not have unfettered rights to stop and search (participants were well aware that the police have legal powers but this is not the same as an unconditional right to stop and search).
g. Stop and Search can, and is having, have damaging effects on communities and community relations.
h. Stop and Search powers require a secure base of community support.
Key findings: Police non-compliance with the law, rules and guidelines
a. Stop and Search is not working at present and has not been working fairly, effectively or properly for many years.
b. Many participants highlighted that they did not feel that the police abided by provisions requiring them to have ‘reasonable grounds’ and participants said that too often police officers seemed to justify their actions.
c. Participants raised concerns about police behaviour and attitudes when those stopped did know or seek to raise their legal rights; too often participants reported that this simply led police officers to be more aggressive or hostile.
d. It is essential that police forces are clear how they are planning to use Stop and Search to tackle crime.
The research highlighted that Stop and Search might actually be detrimental to wider police work. Community members that feel victimised to profiled by Stop and Search are less likely to cooperate with law enforcement officials and thus, less likely to aid crime prevention.
JUST West Yorkshire along with other CORE members broadly supported the recommendations made by StopWatch and wish to see how they, and others, can be actively involved in developing, implementing and monitoring associated action plans.
You can also read the Press Release from Runnymede Trust about the report here.