||The Guardian yesterday covered research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on stop and search powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. The research finds that the powers are being used disproportionately against people of ethnic minority backgrounds in certain police forces. The research builds on the Commission’s ongoing work on stop and search in the UK and its relation to equality and the ‘public duty’.
As with section 44 of the Terrorism Act, section 60 type of stop and search does not require an officer to have any reasonable suspicion for doing so. “It gives the police the power to stop and search any pedestrians or vehicles for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments within a specified area and during a specified period of time.”
The legal framework within which the use of the powers are investigated by the EHRC include the Equalities Act 2006; the European Convention on Human Rights Articles 8 (privacy), 5 (liberty and security) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination); According to the EHRC’s appraisal of adherence by police forces to the public duty on equality, “any continuing and serious disproportionate use of these powers against ethnic minorities may indicate that the police and the Home Office are not complying with their public sector duties obligations”.
The research and analysis is based predominantly on information given by 24 English police forces on the use of the powers between 1st April 2008 and 31st March 2011.
Some of the key findings of the report are shown below:
• The Metropolitan Police carried out the highest number of stop and searches with over 258,000 in total. Its annual total has declined from 114,234 in 2008/09 to 53,509 in 2010/11. This constitutes three quarters of all s.60 stop and searches in England in the three year period.
• Merseyside was the next most likely to use the power with 40,940 stop and searches followed by Lancashire (5740) and the West Midlands (2165).
• There has been an increase in s.60 stop and searches carried out on all non-white groups (Mixed; Asian; Black; Chinese or other) from 51% of the total in 2008/09 to 64% in 2010/11.
• The black ethnic group was subject to the most stop and searches in each year of the three year period, although this decreased from 37.2 per 1000 in 2008/09 to 29.8 per 1000 in 2009/10 and 17.2 per 1000 in 2010/11. These rates decrease significantly if figures from the Metropolitan Police are excluded- 3.4 per 1000, 2.8 per 1000 and 1.2 per 1000 respectively in the three year periods.
• In each of the three year periods researched, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the Metropolitan Police all had high rates of stop and search (5.0 per 1000) for at least one of the BME groups.
• Disproportionality ratios (comparing the number of stop and searches carried out on white groups compared to other ethnic groups) found that the West Midlands had the highest disproportionality ratio for black/white, mixed/white and Asian/white. Greater Manchester and then the Metropolitan Police had the second and third highest disproportionality rations for black/white and mixed white.
• Excess stop and searches (the difference between the number of stop and searches experienced by an ethnic group and the number that they would have experienced had they experienced it at the same rate as the white population) were highest for Black groups (19,756), Asian groups (9,166) and mixed groups (1,785) in the Metropolitan Police in all of the years (corresponding also to the fact that the Met Police carried out the most stop and searched under s.60).
The paper concludes that “police forces are using s.60 stop and search on fewer occasions. This indicates that the police are making progress on their commitment to use stop and search appropriately in this area”.
“Some police forces are stopping and searching a much higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities than live in their community. This can be justified if there is a genuine rationale for it, such as reducing knife crime in the area that has a high ethnic population. The justification should be set out in the authorisation to use s.60 powers, however the research found that this is often not the case.
“The research process has highlighted a need for police forces to be consistent in how they collect and record data on their use of this power. This will help them to...demonstrate that authorisations made under s.60, and the resulting stops and searches, are credible and justifiable.
“Improving the transparency of their decisions should also protect the police from allegations of race discrimination if their rationale for stopping and searching people with a specific ethnic background is legitimate”.
Accusations of the racist and discriminatory use of stop and search have been an ongoing issue in the UK, with criticism levelled by civil liberties groups, government departments, select committees and members of Parliament. In 2010, in a landmark case brought by Liberty, the European Court of Human Rights found that s.44 of the Terrorism Act, which allowed for stop and search without ‘reasonable suspicion’ was being used illegally prompting the Government to curtail significantly police powers to stop and search under this piece of legislation. Stop and search has nevertheless continued to be an issue impacting on racial equality in the UK as successive reports show the disproportionate use of the powers against ethnic minorities. The EHCR has previously warned to legal action against police forces found to be in breach of equalities legislation in relation to stop and search powers. In December last year the Home Secretary announced a national review of stop and search. This was followed by an announcement by the Metropolitan Police in January this year that it will ‘dramatically reduce’ the number of stop and searches conducted in the capital in a bid to improve relations with ethnic minorities and to address the problem of alienation.
The full ECHR report is available to download here.