The news this week that the police use of stop and search powers were ineffective in reducing crime comes as no surprise. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which independently assesses police forces, found that stop and search powers were procedurally incorrect.
The report examined 8,783 cases and found that in 27% of those cases police officers either did not record a reason for the stop and search, or the actual factual grounds used for the search were incorrect. The British Home Secretary, Theresa May has argued it is "time to get stop and search right" and therefore has launched a public consultation, which will examine stop and search powers.
At the moment, a police officer must have 'reasonable' grounds for stopping and searching someone. This means that in practice the police can stop and search any person at any time and ask them 'What are you doing?'. The danger with this type of power is trying to ascertain what are 'reasonable' grounds for stopping and searching someone? My argument has always been that you cannot simply stop and search people because they fit a certain profile.
At a time when confidence in the police is at an all time low, because of complicity in the news hacking scandal and the case of under cover policing operations such as the Stephen Lawrence case. The Policing Minister, Damian Green, has argued that trust can only be restored if the public have 'faith' in policing which could be achieved by the police simply being more 'polite'. The report mirrors those of my findings and research into police and ethnic minority recruitment. In a joint study I conducted which examined why the Muslim community did not see the police force as a 'professional' career, the people we interviewed cited 'stop and search' as one reason for their mistrust of the police.
Controversially this type of blanket use of stop and search powers, means that in many cases the police can operate with a free reign as highlighted by the HMIC Report. This is problematic when innocent individuals have their rights trampled on in the process of law and order. For example, in 2005, John Catt, aged 88, an anti-war campaigner had been unfairly stopped twice by the police under the Terrorism Act. Once because the police wished to search his van and the second time he was stopped because he was wearing an anti-Blair T-shirt. He subsequently won a legal battle to have his details removed from a police extremism database.
A broad power of this type is deeply worrying as it is in essence creating an arbitrary and draconian power that gives the police the ability to abuse their position and in many cases inevitably stop and search innocent people (which have included more recently photographers). It is therefore crucial for the criminal justice system to ensure that such powers are not exercised for spurious reasons.
As Ken Hinds, who was wrongfully stopped and searched by the police argues that: "Sixty per cent of the police stop and search is for misuse of drugs - that's where they're going wrong. That's where you get the disproportionality happening, because that's where they target the black community under the misuse of drugs."
Clearly, evidence shows that stop and search powers are disproportionately targeting Black and ethnic minority communities. No one should be stopped and searched simply because of their faith, what they are wearing and skin colour. Theresa May agrees with this and stated that: "The official statistics show that if you're from a black or minority ethnic background, you're up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you're white."
The police need to rebuild trust with BME communities and this can only happen when the police realise that stop and search powers must not be used as a profiling exercise that is based on an officers 'hunch' that someone should be stopped because they look 'dodgy'. This is why a civil rights group in 2012 in the West Midlands produced a civil rights card to help people from a BME background who may have been stopped and searched by the police know what their rights are in case the police abused their powers.