The chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh, has said the government isn’t willing to make real changes to stop and search powers following today’s announcement by the Home Secretary that they would be overhauled with a revised code of conduct.
Theresa May told MPs that an inquiry had found 27% of searches may have been illegal and that if the number of stop and searches did not now come down, she would seek to change the law.
The move follows a consultation, which highlighted concerns that stop and search was used too widely and was unfairly targeting ethnic minorities.
Recent figures show only about 10% of more than a million searches lead to an arrest, with black people six times more likely to be stopped than those who are white.
At present, police can stop someone if they have reasonable grounds to suspect they are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.
However, officers can also stop and search someone without suspicion that they are involved in wrongdoing if approved by a senior officer, for example, because there is a fear that serious violence could take place.
Mrs May said when misused, stop and search was an “enormous waste of police time” and “hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public”.
“It is very clear that in a large number of cases the reasonable grounds for suspicion were not there and one can only therefore assume, given that black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, that it is precisely the fact that they are a black person that has led to that stop and search taking place.
“It is absolutely disgraceful and sadly… this is a feeling that has come through to young people in black and minority ethnic communities that this is what happens and that this is, if you like, a way of life.”
Under the new plans:
– Alex Marshall, chief executive of the professional standards body the College of Policing, will review stop and search training for all forces.
– Officers will have to sit assessments on whether they understand the rules on stop and search and will have to account for their actions if there are community complaints.
– Police could face disciplinary action if they misuse their powers – or be barred from using them altogether.
But Massoud Shadjareh, who has been campaigning against the abuse of stop and search for years, said instead of simply recommending more training, officers must be disciplined for abusing their powers.
He said: “These are just empty words by Theresa May. The fact is that this ‘overhaul’ will not affect the stop and searching which goes on at airports under the Schedule 7 laws. And those searches are carried out by highly trained officers so training really isn’t the issue here. The issue is that there is no appetite from the government to do what is necessary – to discipline officers who abuse their powers and conduct illegal stop and searches.