Three-quarters of young BAME people feel unfairly ‘targeted’ by stop and search
Most black and minority ethnic (BAME) young people do not feel that stop and search is used fairly, according to new research. The survey, commissioned by the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA), has concluded that of the two million BAME young people aged between 16 and 30 in England and Wales, almost 1.5 million think they are unfairly targeted by the tactic.
The CJA’s No Respect report, which gathered the perspectives of 503 BAME people across the country, also reveals that more than two in five thought police did not use fair information when deciding who to stop and search. Although many did not object to the tactic’s use in principal, they stated that they felt disproportionately targeted by it based on their appearance, behaviour, or particularly their ethnicity. The equivalent of half a million said that what they know about stop and search made them ‘less proud’ to be British citizen in 2017.
The number of stop and searches carried out in England and Wales has fallen from 1.2 million in 2010/11 to 380,000 in five years, with no discernible effect on crime rates. However, data shows that this decline has disproportionately affected white people. Young BAME people are now three times more likely to be stopped and searched, an increase from twice as likely last year. Furthermore, black people are six times more likely to be stopped, up from four times the previous year.
Policymakers have long struggled to prove that stop and search procedures have any positive effect on reducing crime. In 2013, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded that ‘very few forces could demonstrate that the use of stop and search powers was based on an understanding of what works best to cut crime’.
Evidence of a deterrent effect is at best highly localised and has a short impact time. Moreover, the majority of stop and search cases result in no further action being taken, with a recent review demonstrating that 15% were carried out without any reasonable grounds whatsoever.
The report by the CJA, a coalition of 120 organisations working to improve the criminal justice system, also explores the damaging short and long-term impacts of stop and search, often the most confrontational and public encounter with police that most BAME young people ever experience.
According to the CJA, the procedure can have damaging effects on a young person’s self-esteem. One black 18 year old from Tottenham said of the police: ‘If I see them, and they’re coming towards me, my heart will race out of my chest, my legs will literally turn to jelly, and I’m just thinking to myself, like what is gonna happen now?’
Stop and search also fosters current and future mistrust of the police and law enforcement. Nearly two-fifths of young BAME people trust the police less because of their experiences, knowledge and perception about stop and search. A mixed-race man from Tottenham said: ‘This is why we don’t have no faith in the police whatsoever. Because once you’re being targeted so many times, you’ve had enough and you ain’t just gonna bother listening.’ Stop and search has previously been described by the Independent Police Complaints Commission as ‘probably the leading cause of tension between young people and the police’.
Such negative experiences subsequently cultivate disillusionment among young people towards the very services designed to protect them. One Asian 15 year old told the CJA: ‘If I saw a crime happening, if someone died from it, if someone was in critical condition, I’d call an ambulance. But I wouldn’t call the police.’ Another 23 year old black man from Lambeth said: ‘‘Because of the police I just have no faith in the criminal justice system at all’.
Ben Summerskill, the CJA’s director, said: ‘Too many young people we’ve spoken to feel a visceral hostility towards police as a consequence. When two-thirds of stops lead to no further action being taken at all by most forces, it’s understandable that huge resentment is caused.’
Cresida Dick, the metropolitan police commissioner, has previously stated her support of stop and search in order to reduce knife crime in London, describing the tactic as ‘hugely powerful’.
Piers is presently working for a charity which promotes children's rights. He was online editor at Not Shut Up, a magazine celebrating prisoner creativity