Surge in stop and search in England as police battle knife crime

‘Deeply worrying’ rise over last two years in use of tactic by country’s biggest forces

Police attempts to tackle violent crime have brought about a sharp rise in the use of stop and search powers in some of England’s major forces, Guardian analysis reveals.

In findings that critics have described as deeply worrying, data from eight of the country’s biggest forces shows the scale of the use of stop and search, which more than doubled from 15,557 instances in March 2017 to 33,022 in March 2019.

In 2018, eight major forces recorded 214,240 stop and searches, a rise from 178,318 in 2017. The Metropolitan police, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands police were behind the surge.

Critics say stop-and-search powers disproportionately target black people and undermine community relations.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, enhanced section 60 powers in March this year, giving police officers more scope to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion in an attempt to combat knife crime.

The frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, Boris Johnson, has repeatedly pledged to boost police powers to execute stop and searches in an effort to beat knife crime. He told a hustings event last month: “It’s about giving police the political cover and support they need to do stop and search and to come down hard on those carrying knives,” he said.


David Lammy, the Labour MP for for Tottenham, said: “The deeply worrying rise in stop and search, resulting from deliberate strategic choice by the home secretary, shows a police force on the back foot as a result of vast funding shortfalls resulting from austerity. As Sajid Javid has tacitly admitted during the Tory leadership campaign, the police have been starved of resources since 2010.”

Lammy said rather than addressing the root causes of violent crime, such as deprivation, the government had chosen “to pursue a policy that it knows is inherently unfair, unjust and ineffectual”.

The MP said rising use of stop and search would further increase tensions in our society and “exacerbate the crisis at a time of unprecedented division”.

Omar Khan, the director of the Runnymede Trust, said the re-emergence of these powers was worrying. “We are in a world where most black men will have a family member who has been stopped and searched. I think it will create more tensions in communities – that has always been the case.”

Khan said it was particularly worrying that the police did not seem to be listening to those affected by the policy, “discounting them as troublemakers and dismissing the fact that it [stop and search] was racially discriminatory”.

Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said the rise reflected “a troubling reliance on these powers as a cure-all for serious youth violence, while neglecting the risks they pose”.

Adrian Hanstock, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stop and search, said it was ultimately “an evidence gathering and safeguarding power”.

He said: “In recent months, those forces referenced have increased their use of their section 60 powers, which are intended to prevent violent crime and remove drugs and weapons from our streets, in response to the actual levels of violence being experienced. This is undoubtedly supported by public mandate in the main.”

Hanstock said they were evaluating the impact of an increased use of section 60 search powers. The enhanced powers, which the Home Office announced on 31 March, reduced the authorisation required for a section 60 from senior officer to inspector. A lesser degree of certainty was required by the police.

The Guardian sent a freedom of information request to eight of the biggest police forces in England: Greater Manchester, the Metropolitan police, Merseyside, Northumbria, Devon and Cornwall, Thames Valley, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

Greater Manchester police have reported a rise in the use of stop and search from 2,852 cases in 2017 to 4,831 in 2019. The Met had a rise from 136,647 to 180,991 over the same period.

John Sutherland, a retired borough commander who worked for the Met for more than 25 years, said the debate around stop and search was often reduced to the binary, with people thinking it was either the solution to everything or the route of all evil.

“It has become increasingly difficult to have nuanced, intelligent conversation between those positions, and neither is correct … It has to be more than a binary debate,” he said.

He added: “The rise in use in itself is not bad, but it must be used appropriately. We must get beyond the binary … We don’t have enough police officers out there and have not used stop and search adequately or sufficiently. And that has been significantly because of the politicisation of the power.

“From both sides of the political spectrum, senior politicians are guilty of politicising an operational power and with significantly damaging consequences.”

A Home Office spokesperson said stop and search was an important tool in disrupting crime. “However, nobody should be stopped based on their race or ethnicity, and forces must ensure that officers use these intrusive powers in a way that is fair, lawful and effective.”


Sarah Marsh and Patrick Greenfield

The GuardianTramp

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