STOP AND SEARCH DOESN’T WORK
This ‘important tool’ against terrorism treats innocent black people as suspects, writes Nicola Rollock
The use of police stop-and-search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 has risen dramatically since summer 2007, with black and Asian people disproportionately targeted in the “aftermath of the failed London bombing in the Haymarket”.
As you report, new Ministry of Justice figures show that from 2007-08 “the number of black people stopped under these powers rose by 322%, compared with an increase of 277% for Asian and 185% for white people”. But an unreported aspect of the figures was the increase in the proportion of these searches being carried out by the Metropolitan Police – with little apparent effect.
The Met were responsible for 87% of all black people searched under this law in 2008, an increase of 303% from the previous year. Only eight of the 8,222 searched were subsequently arrested for activities related to terrorism. Yet in your article Home Office minister Vernon Coaker described stop and search as an “important tool” aimed at “disrupting crime and responding to intelligence and levels of risk”. Even if we ignore the fact that not all arrests lead to conviction, this meant that the Met had grounds to arrest only one in every 1,028 black people searched. It is difficult to establish how such rates of success make it an “important tool”.
In the Runnymede Trust report on the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, published in February, I called for a rigorous independent review of the effectiveness of stop and search as a crime reduction strategy. It was somewhat ironic that, days later, while driving along the Embankment, my dad was stopped and his vehicle searched by the Metropolitan Police under section 1 of the Terrorism Act. He was, I hasten to say, entirely innocent.
One argument often posed in debates about stop and search is that if someone like my dad isn’t doing anything wrong, he shouldn’t be bothered about being stopped. This argument not only insists that black (and Asian) people should simply accept that because of their skin colour they do not have the right to live their lives without extra surveillance and suspicion, but it also suggests that they should accept a range of other inequalities that affect them simply because of their ethnicity. Government statistics show, for example, that even if qualifications, education and experience are the same, black and minority ethnic groups are still likely to be on lower incomes compared to their white counterparts.
The fact that our highly skilled police service, trained in the latest methods of crime detection and privy to the most secret intelligence, can only return a success rate of one in 1,028, leads me to seriously consider seeking research funding to discover whether members of the general public would fare any better. Yes, it is important that we remain vigilant about the potential for terrorist acts; but the Met’s actions, as with the entire police service, must be informed by genuine intelligence and not speculation based on skin colour.
Dr Nicola Rollock is a research associate for The Runnymede Trust and author of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 10 Years On