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Expanded stop and search powers will lead to ‘more criminalisation of Black people’, groups warn

Police no longer have to let communities know when they introduce Section 60 stop and search orders in their area.

stop and search

Priti Patel addressing the House of Commons. Image: Parliament

A decision by Priti Patel to expand stop and search powers will worsen divisions between police and communities and lead to “more criminalisation of Black people”, civil liberties groups have warned.

The Home Secretary on Monday lifted restrictions on Section 60 powers introduced in 2014 by Theresa May, but the move has renewed calls for them to be scrapped altogether. 

Section 60 gives police the power to search people without suspicion. Now, the order can be authorised by less senior officers, can be in place for longer, and can be implemented without informing communities.

The use of stop and search has increased by 85 per cent since 2019 and played a part in 50,000 weapons being confiscated. But it disproportionately impacts Black and minority ethnic people.

Figures released last year showed Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and Asian people were two-and-a-half times more likely. Police are unable to explain the disparity.

Human rights group Liberty said police have “consistently shown that they do not use stop and search fairly or proportionately”.

The change means police do not need to believe serious violence “will” occur – just that it may take place.

The previous restrictions meant a Section 60 order could be in force for 15 hours and be extended to 39 hours. It can now be in place for 24 hours and extended to 48.

Previously, only senior officers could authorise the powers – now an inspector can.

In 2020, the Met highlighted how Section 60 orders worked as a deterrent, arguing “the more people we can make aware of it, the more we can discourage the carrying of knives.”

Today’s changes mean the orders no longer need to be publicly communicated to communities in advance.

But the Home Office said it would be working to ensure “transparent communication with communities”, adding that “in some instances this might not be possible due to operational tactics.”

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the police have consistently shown that they do not use stop and search fairly or proportionately, so giving them even more power isn’t how we get there.

“Not only are Section 60 stops not effective at detecting and reducing knife crime, they disproportionately affect people of colour, particularly Black people. Removing the safeguards will worsen existing divisions between police and communities at a time when public trust and confidence in the police is at a serious low.”

In November, the Home Office was forced to reverse a decision to scrap stop and search safeguards after a challenge from human rights groups.

A review from the Independent Office for Police Conduct found last month that the misuse of stop and search powers resulted in “trauma”, amid a revelation that one child had been stopped and searched 60 times, including multiple times on the same day.

Along with today’s changes, the Home Office has also asked the College of Policing to update its stop and search guidance “to ensure its fair and proportionate use”.

Police monitoring organisation Netpol told The Big Issue: “Restrictions were placed on the use of Section 60 stop and search powers for good reason. Suspicionless search powers are disproportionately used against Black people who are already 18 times more likely to be stopped under this power. There has been no evidence that anything has changed since Theresa May imposed these limited restrictions when she was Home Secretary. 

“Section 60 should be scrapped, not expanded. In 2021, research found that just 0.79% of searches resulted in police officers finding weapons. The relaxation of these powers will lead to more targeting and criminalisation of Black people based on racist presumptions from an institutionally racist police force.”

Statistics from November 2021 showed that stop and search was used on one in five ethnic minority teenage boys, with just 11 per cent of overall searches resulting in an arrest.

Youth empowerment organisation The 4Front Project told The Big Issue the news represented a failure to tackle the issues affecting young people’s lives.

A spokesperson said: “We know that stop and search powers are used in systematically racist ways, are ineffective in reducing violence and cause significant mental health impacts for those targeted in searches. 

“Section 60s are a particularly aggressive tool in the police’s arsenal – where racist disproprtionality of searches massively increases – even more than regular stop and search. 

“All evidence shows this – including the government’s own reports. With the meagre safeguards that exist around Section 60s being thrown out the window, we as a society can expect to see further distressing, intrusive and disproportionately harsh criminal justice outcomes for young Black men, while the actual conditions that cause difficulties for young people, and all our communities, go ignored and dismissed.’ 

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