Police forces accused of race bias in stop and search figures
PUBLISHED June 12, 2012
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that in some areas, black people are 30 times more likely to be targeted by officers looking for weapons than whites.
In total, ethnic minorities now make up two-thirds of those subjected to stop and search procedures, up from half a few years earlier.
However the number of searches has fallen while the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are reviewing the controversial policy.
The EHRC sent out the new study in an email headed: "Police use of stop and search is biased."
Simon Woolley, lead Commissioner on race for the quango, said: "It has been encouraging that some forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, have recognised the need to end disproportionate stop and search. Evidence-led policing is much more effective, and avoids alienating the very people who should be helping the police to catch criminals.
"We will continue working with Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and individual police forces to ensure that effective and targeted policing is also fully in line with forces responsibilities to demonstrate equality and respect for human rights."
It is the latest in a series of reports by the equality watchdog to criticise police use of stop and search powers.
Under one power, given in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1994, officers must have "reasonable suspicion" that the person they are searching is committing or intending to commit an unlawful activity. But the EHRC said in 2010 that most forces unfairly target black and Asian people.
It also condemned the stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - now repealed - which led to innocent photographers and tourists being arrested for taking snaps of London landmarks.
Police can also stop and search people on the street under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 - the subject of the new report - which was initially introduced to combat hooliganism at football matches.
They do not need to suspect an individual of involvement in crime in order to look for weapons, but must carry out the operation within a specific area and during a set period of time, if a senior officer believes violence may take place there and then.
The Commission received detailed figures from 24 forces in England on the number of authorisations carried out under Section 60 between April 2008 and March 2011.
The highest numbers of searches were carried out by the Met (258,000 in total, but falling from 114,234 in 2008-09 to 53,509 in 2010-11), followed by Merseyside (40,940).
The proportion of searches for non-white groups rose from 51 per cent in 2008-09 to 64 per cent in 2010-11.
Detailed analysis showed that six forces had the highest "disproportionality ratios", calculated by comparing the number of white people searched per 1,000 in the population with those the number of those among people of mixed race, Asian or black backgrounds.
Across England as a whole, black people were 37.2 times as likely to be searched as whites in 2010-11 although this falls to 9.3 if London is excluded.
Among those searched by British Transport Police officers, the ratio was 31 while in the West Midlands it was 28 and in Greater Manchester it was 21.
Asians were 9.8 times as likely to be searched than white people across England, and mixed race people 8.6 times.
In total, there were 4,230 arrests in 2008-09 following stop and search actions, but only 527 related to offensive weapons being found.
By 2010-11 this had fallen to 1,364 arrests, only 220 of which related to weapons.
The report concluded: "Some police forces are stopping and searching a much higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities than live in their community."
It said this could be justified if there was a genuine reason, such as cutting knife crime in an area with a high ethnic population, but not all forces give justification when ordering Section 60 search powers.
"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."
ACPO lead for stop and search, Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey, said: "This report is a welcome step in further understanding the impact that stop and search can have within our communities. Chief officers, through ACPO, have been working for some time with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as well as partners within the police service including the National Policing Improvement Agency, to ensure that stop and search is used proportionately and with the full support of the communities we serve.
"Chief officers support the use of stop and search as these powers are critical in our efforts to tackle knife, gun and gang crimes. It is important that there is a debate about the effectiveness of these police tactics as we seek to balance the impact of powers, like section 60, on our communities with the need to protect communities from serious crime.
"The police service is firmly committed to working, both locally and nationally, to ensure all sections of society have confidence in the police service and we look forward to working with EHRC to better understand the evidence shown in this report and how it can influence our decision making."