12/01/2012 10:22 GMT | Updated 12/01/2012 13:24 GMT

Met To Reduce Random Stop And Search In Attempt To Improve Race Relations In London

The Metropolitan Police is to dramatically reduce the number of random searches on members of the public in an effort to improve relations between officers and the black and ethnic minority communities.

Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is said to be concerned that officers are not facing enough scrutiny when they conduct random searches.

Instead police will be tasked with targeting small areas with high crime rates, and known criminals and suspects, to help increase arrests, while random Section 60 searches will be reduced.

Research conducted by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the London School of Economics in 2010 showed that there were 41.6 searches carried out under Section 60 for every 1,000 black people and 1.6 for every 1,000 white people.

The disproportionate rates of supposedly 'random' search are widely seen to have antagonised the already-strained relationship between the police and black and ethnic minority communities.

Perceived abuse of Section 60 was frequently cited as an underlying cause of last summer's riots.

It has also been seen as significant that the changes to stop and search have been ordered made a week after two men were convicted of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

In the aftermath of the trial Met Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick spoke of her "huge relief", and said it "exemplifies how we've changed in terms of the way we investigate" after Scotland Yard was branded "institutionally racist" in the wake of the failed first investigation into Lawrence's murder.

On stop and search Scotland Yard has also been criticised for its low arrest rates compared to other police forces, which at 6% is among the lowest in the country.

Reports suggest that Hogan-Howe has pledged to increase arrest rates as high as 20%.

In a statement on the change in direction, the Metropolitan Police said:

"We have reviewed stop and search policy and practice to examine ways of making its use more effective and of increasing public confidence.

"From this week, the MPS Commissioner has signed off implementation of a new approach will see a dedicated, experienced central team lead a wide range of changes affecting every element of stop and search with the aim of improving policy, practice, and performance across the board."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman told the Press Association: "Last year, there were 1,753 Section 60 authorities. Within these 1,753 authorities, there were around 51,000 searches.

"If we raise the threshold for a Section 60, we might not necessarily see fewer searches. It could be that there's a stronger case to do a S60 authority and in that authority, we do search more people. It is the number of authorities that is being targeted."

Scotland Yard said it would aim to increase positive outcomes "across key categories from arrest rates to seizures of weapons" and will "heighten internal scrutiny" of random searches made under Section 60.

"The wider community recognise that stop and search is a vital tool and we know we must retain [the public's] backing. We will continue to work to increase the involvement of communities and third sector organisations and statutory partners as we move forward with these changes."

On Wednesday Hogan-Howe told a public meeting in Harrow that officers would be forced to target criminals and not members of the public:

The moves have been welcomed with caution by campaigners, who said that the police would have to work hard to rebuild relationships with black and ethnic minority communities.

"We welcome any moves to reduce excessive stop and search in the capital," said Kam Gill, a member of the group Stop-Watch, said.

"We'd just like to see more work done on improving the relationship between the police and community."

Gill cited initiatives in Ipswich and Suffolk where police hold meetings with community groups to explain and justify individual instances of stop and search as one example of a positive attempt to reduce disproportionate search rates.

"London has a huge police force but these things could be implemented across the city," Gill said.