Reform police stop and search – or we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past
Institutional racism and the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy have led to the criminalisation of a whole community, writes Naz Shah
We have all heard the argument that political correctness has gone mad, but try being from a black minority and ethnic background, or a Muslim at the airport.
The idea that stop and search is only a problem for those people that have something to hide, is easily said when viewed through a privileged lens. This conversation isn’t the first, but until changes are made and actually implemented, I promise you it won’t be the last.
In 2014 the government committed to a raft of changes but recent policy decisions and backsliding mean little progress has been made. The College of Policing also recognise fundamental changes need to be made. Whilst accepting that stop and search powers are important in helping the police fight and prevent crime; when used unjustly against innocent people they are hugely damaging to police and community relations.
The litmus test proves that though there have been small changes, overall if you’re black you’re still more likely to be stopped and searched. In fact, it has increased in only the last two years. In 2015 you were 4.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you were black than if you were white. Yet in 2017 it is somewhere closer to 8 times more likely.
However, the problem is not just stop and search, it is much deeper. The sad reality is that the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the resulting Macpherson Report, have only delivered a marginal increase in the number of BAME officers. Police Forces are not reflective of our communities and BAME officers are effectively nonexistent in the higher ranks. The culture sadly remains unchanged. Our institutions still do not understand the issue of race.
Just over a week ago, Amnesty International published a 55-page report entitled Trapped in the Matrix, which identified the Metropolitan Police’s use of a ‘gang matrix’ to racially profile members of gangs.
“As of October 2017, 3,806 people were listed on the Matrix. More than three-quarters (78%) of people on the Matrix are black, a disproportionate number given the Met’s own figures show that only 27% of those responsible for serious youth violence are black.”
When a racially preconditioned hyperventilated view exists that black people are more likely to be in gangs or criminals, it leads to more stop and searches, it leads to the criminalisation of a whole community and it leads to the obvious answer – institutional racism.
There are many other examples. New laws introduced as part of the ‘hostile environment’ have made the police the first line of immigration enforcement. The new offence of driving while ‘illegal’ leads to the targeting of people who look ‘non-British’ and we have heard cases recently where victims reporting crimes have been arrested for being unable to prove their ‘status’. All of these things compound a targeting culture and continue to reinforce the notion of suspect communities.
Whilst Theresa May was the Home Secretary she promised to revoke the ability of individual police officers to use stop and search where they are found to abuse those powers. In 2014, when she told parliament that as many as 250,000 stop searches may have been conducted illegally, she also launched a “comprehensive package” of reforms.
However, the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd did not utter a single statement on stop and search, nor follow up with the implementation of Theresa May’s reforms. If the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid is sincere in weeding out the roots of the hostile environment then strong action is needed in bringing forward these reforms.
If alongside the steady decline of genuine community policing we have an environment that singles out people based on the colour of their skin, then we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past.
Naz Shah is Labour MP for Bradford West and a member of the Home Affairs Committee. Her Westminster Hall debate is on Wednesday 23 May