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Stop and search: little decline in police using controversial measure

Surrey Police’s stop and search data for February show that there has been little decline amid rising distrust in the police.

The force made 357 stop and searches in the area during February, with only 45 leading to arrests, while 267 of them led to no further action.

Stop and searches have come under fire in recent years as many claim to be racially targeted by the police – one 14 year-old black schoolboy from London was stopped 30 times in the last three years.

According to Government data, there were 6 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people between April 2019 and March 2020.

Chief Superintendent Clive Davies, Surrey Police’s lead on stop and search said: “The recent rolling 12-month data for 2021 shows a reduction in stop and searches in the county of 12% compared with the previous 12 months.

“We are entrusted with powers on behalf of the public and as such we always welcome and encourage robust scrutiny of the stop and search tactic.”

Davies also said it’s their responsibility to balance tackling crime while also building trust in communities with the way stop and search is used.

He added that there are procedures in place to analyse how stop and search is used, as well as an independent panel that reviews data and body-camera footage to ensure standards are being upheld.

Total stops: 357

Surrey Police said: “In the vast majority of cases, the self-defined ethnicity and the officer-defined ethnicity matches.

“We are required to ask people searched for their self-defined ethnicity, but they of course do not need to answer and what they do say is down to them.

“For completeness and transparency, we also record officer-defined ethnicity, and this is especially helpful when the searched person declines to answer the question, or when the answer they provide is (whether deliberately or not) inaccurate.”

The force added that they must ask people for their ethnicity, although people are allowed to not answer – and those who do sometimes provide a clearly inaccurate answer which must be recorded regardless.

As shown in the data, the large majority of stops made involved officers who matched the ethnicity of those they stopped – but during the 10 stops where they didn’t, 50% were carried out on black people by white officers.

All data is in % – total stops: 10

According to official Government guidelines, the police can stop you and ask ‘what your name is, what you’re doing in the area and where you’re going.’

They also say that you do not have to stop or answer any questions – if you don’t and there’s no other reason to suspect you, then ‘this alone can’t be used as a reason to search or arrest you.’

Lillian Okolie, one of the founders of the Reach Out Project which aims to combat the lack of social, cultural and enriching opportunities young people have in inner-city London, has witnessed the impact stop and searches can have on young people.

On May 8, Okolie saw a 15-year-old boy detained at a bus stop in Croydon during a stop and search, but the officers found nothing on the young boy, and no one else at the bus stop was searched.

Okolie said: “The boy had braces. Just some innocent little kid at the bus stop. 

“They didn’t stop and search anybody else, but this little kid. 

“I said, what did you find on him? – they found nothing. They let him go home.

“He was so frightened. He just ran straight on the bus.”

Situations like these have led to distrust in the police, with more and more young children being affected by stop and searches across London.

Okolie said: “I don’t trust the police in general.

“I don’t think that what they’re doing is beneficial to the community – I think what they’re doing is instilling fear in our kids. Stopping and searching doesn’t solve knife crime.

“When you’re doing these stop and searches in the public with innocent boys who are just existing, you’re robbing them of their innocence.”

One of the children Okolie mentors faced a situation where he was thrown in the back of a police van and strip-searched – normally only possible at a police station or an area that is out of public view.

She feels that the search was sexual assault, and even though the police found nothing on the boy initially, they still strip-searched him and looked inside his boxers.

Okolie added: “He said every single time he sees police, he’s out, he’s running. He said you’re not gonna do that to me twice. When that happened, it was last year and he’s 17 now, so he was either 15 or 16. 

“That’s the type of trauma they’re putting in these kids. And I’m having to deal with that every day.”

Okolie feels that community groups, rather than aggressive stop and searches, are the best way to combat knife crime in London.

She said: “There are lots of community groups and I’ve run one of them, the Reach Out Project, that actually sits down and works to help these young black boys to give them a purpose, to take them away from the area that we’re in to show them life outside of Croydon.

“I don’t think the solution is profound. I’ve been doing it for five years. Five good years.”

The Met Police were contacted for comment.

Featured image: Met Police

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