Socialist Worker

Cops stop and search black people more—but find fewer drugs than on white people

Issue No. 2584

Police stop a young black man in London

Police stop a young black man in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Cops stop and search black people more than white people, but they are less likely to find drugs on black people than white people.

That’s according to analysis released on Tuesday, which reveals the institutional racism at the heart of the policy.

The research was released by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. Echoing every other study ever done, “It suggests that the use of stop and search on black people might be based on weaker grounds for suspicion than its use on white people,” it said.

During drug searches the find rate was 33 percent when the person was white and 26 percent when the person was black. There was a similar difference in the find rate when the official grounds for a stop and search simply involved smelling cannabis—37 percent white and 29 percent black.  

The Inspectorate said the figures had to be “taken alongside the fact that black people are more than eight times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched”. And that they “require an explanation that the service is unable to provide”.

Cops use stop and search powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The Inspectorate lauded that “the number of stop and searches carried out by forces in England and Wales has fallen from more than 1 million a decade ago to 300,000”.


As home secretary Theresa May did bring in limited reforms of stop and search, which meant that cops had to record the outcome of each one.

But it remains a criminal offence to refuse to be stopped and searched—and racism still runs through the policy.  

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The Inspectorate’s review of stop and search was part of a broader look at “police legitimacy”. The Inspectorate graded one force as “outstanding”, 35 “good”, six “requiring improvement”—and none as inadequate.

That claim comes in the same year as Edson Da Costa, Rashan Charles, Darren Cumberbatch and others died after contact with the police. That’s three young black men dead in the space of one summer—and the list grew longer this week.

Nuno Cardoso, a 25 year old student, died in the custody of Thames Valley Police last month.

Instances of police racism—from stop and search to deaths in custody—are not due to a few bad apples in the police force. They flow from the police’s role within capitalist society—to keep down working class and black people.

They carry out such “legitimacy reviews” because they know that many working class and black people question the cops and their racism. Any reforms will only change the very worst aspects of this system.  

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