Boris Johnson has set out plans to tackle knife crime by expanding controversial stop-and-search powers which would allow police to search people without having any grounds for suspicion.
The prime minister said he would introduce “serious violence reduction orders”, which would increase police powers to search people who are “known knife carriers” – even if there are no immediate grounds for thinking they are carrying one at that time.
The idea was first proposed by the rightwing Centre for Social Justice thinktank and supported by the former Conservative leader and ex-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Johnson also set a target for anyone caught unlawfully with a knife to be immediately arrested, charged within 24 hours and in court within a week – three times faster than the current average.
He said violence reduction units, staffed by the police, social services and other agencies, would be boosted by £35m.
Announcing the policy in the Evening Standard, Johnson said: “We are announcing greater freedoms for the police to use stop and search on individuals who are known to have carried knives in the past. We are also speeding up prosecutions to make sure the threat of being caught is always an effective deterrent.”
He added: “Just as with our plans to improve schools and hospitals, we can only do any of this if we end the gridlock in parliament with a Conservative majority government.”
Johnson has been trying to put tackling crime at the heart of his election pledges, even though the Conservatives came unstuck in 2017 over Theresa May’s role in cuts to the police.
May scaled back stop and search over concerns about police overusing the powers and causing frustration in minority communities about being disproportionately targeted.
Combined figures for England and Wales showed black people were 40 times more likely to be stopped than white people, up from 14 times in 2017, in the year to March 2018.
However, she partially reversed that in March this year, allowing police officers in seven forces to authorise searches of suspects if they feared violent crime “may”, not “will”, occur.
An official report in October showed people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were likely to be targeted under relaxed stop-and-search rules, despite not having committed crimes.
The equality impact assessment also suggested “changes in the level of stop and search have, at best, only minimal effects on violent crime”.
In the 12 months to March, people from a BAME background were still more than four times more likely to be stopped than white people.