Socialist Worker

Don’t give cops more power to use stop and search

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2630

At the scene of a fatal stabbing in Tulse Hill, south London

At the scene of a fatal stabbing in Tulse Hill, south London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Police chiefs want to make it easier to harass black people. They have met with senior Tories to discuss getting rid of requirements that cops must have “reasonable grounds” to search someone.

This restriction was introduced in 2014 following outrage at cops disproportionately targeting black people.

Figures released last month show black people are 8.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

The rise in knife crime is real—there was a 16 percent rise in knife offences in the year to March.

But the government’s own Serious Violence Strategy released in April dismisses any link between falling use of stop and search and the spike in knife crime.

Tory Home Secretary Sajid Javid has called on London’s Metropolitan Police to make “full use” of its powers, including “targeted” stop and search. He told cops in May he had “confidence in your professional judgement.”

The Tories frame the spike in knife crime as young people fighting each other on increasingly ­lawless streets.

But only 21 percent of people caught in possession of a knife or bladed weapon in the year to March 2018 were aged 10 to 17.

They are using tragic deaths to smooth the path to giving the police more powers.

Pushed

The Tories and their cheerleaders in the media aren’t interested in understanding why people stab each other. Instead neat theories are being pushed which back up their predetermined agenda.

The Tory-supporting Spectator magazine pointed to a 21 percent drop in stop and searches between 2016 and 2017. It then points to a “26 percent rise in the number of homicides involving a bladed weapon over the same period.”

What’s behind gun and knife crime?
What’s behind gun and knife crime?
  Read More

These two observations are true. But placing them in sentences next to each other doesn’t mean they are linked.

Others argue police budget cuts of 20 percent over the past seven years are to blame. But Office for National Statistics figures show that overall levels of crime are stable despite the cuts.

“Lower-volume but higher-harm types of violence” such as knife crime are exceptions to the overall picture.

What is left out of the debate are Tory cuts to services such as drug rehabilitation, youth services and homelessness support. And the sense of hopelessness among many young people.

The Scottish government’s response to high knife crime rates in 2005 saw the creation of the Violence Reduction Unit.

This focuses on outreach work and early intervention involving health education and social work sectors. It’s far from the whole answer, but it led to a rapid drop in knife crime.

Now London mayor Sadiq Khan wants a similar unit for London, but it will need funding to be effective.

The reasons why people carry knives are complex and social—they can’t be pinned on one statistical change.

One thing is sure—the problem won’t be solved by giving police more powers to harass black people.


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