Boris Johnson risks triggering riots with rollout of blanket stop-and-search powers, Diane Abbott warns
The expansion of blanket stop and search powers that let police challenge people without reasonable suspicion could provoke unrest, the government has been warned.
More than 8,000 officers will now be able to impose “section 60” laws on areas where they think violence could break out after Boris Johnson lifted restrictions on their use.
The Home Office described the crackdown as a “pilot”, but admitted that it had not waited for results to come back from seven areas that initially tested the change to roll it out across all 43 forces in England and Wales.
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Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “History has taught the Tories nothing. Extending Section 60 powers over the summer is a tried and tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction.
“This draconian approach shows that Mr Johnson’s government has no real plans to invest in policing or a public health approach to tackling violent crime. They have opted to ‘appear tough’ instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.
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”Evidence based stop and search will always be a vital tool in preventing crime, but random stops have only poisoned police community relations.“
The move is part of a raft of right-wing justice policies announced by Mr Johnson’s new government amid speculation that a snap general election could be called over a no-deal Brexit.
The prime minister has also promised 10,000 additional prison places, a new jail, longer sentences, new laws on knives and acid, and 20,000 more police officers.
Priti Patel claimed the enhanced powers would help stop a “knife crime epidemic” in Britain.
“Police chiefs are clear – stop and search is a vital tool in combatting the scourge of serious violence and keeping people safe,” the home secretary added.
“I am giving them my full support and more police authority to approve stop and search to halt this terrible crime in its tracks.”
Senior police officers have consistently argued that stop and search reduces violence and takes weapons off the streets, pointing to an increase in knife crime after Theresa May tightened rules in 2014.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said increased searches had seen “significant results” in London, while announcing a 15 per cent fall in knife crime injuring under-25s.
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But researchers have questioned evidence of a link, with a recent study finding that stop and search does not significantly reduce knife crime and hinders policing by having a “detrimental effect on community relations”.
A report said a Home Office study of targeted weapons searches in London found no statistically significant reductions in crime, and College of Policing research looking at 10 years of Metropolitan Police data “found only a weak relationship between stop and search and overall levels of the types of crimes the practice aims to reduce”.
Jonathan Hinds, who campaigns against the misuse of stop and search, questioned the evidence behind the expansion of section 60 powers.
“My question is, is it going to be that effective and how transparent are the results going to be?” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The increase in stop and search is going to hit a particular demographic … what will happen is what happened in 2011.
“If they are not monitored and held to account on who they are using this power against you’re going to get a worse result.”
Riots started in London in 2011, when Mr Johnson was mayor, and spread to other English cities after the fatal police shooting of a black man ignited wider community tensions.
While the use of stop and search fell after rules were changed in 2014, racial disproportionality has worsened and black people are now eight times more likely to be stopped than whites.
Mr Hinds said section 60, which allows anyone in a designated area to be challenged without suspicion, could feel like a “fishing expedition” when used in urban areas with high black and ethnic minority populations.
“We want knives and guns off our streets – target them and the people who are really out there doing destructive things,” he said. “You are only going to do that by working with the community, not by isolating good people.”
Mr Hinds said the government had to tackle mental health among young people and the causes of children being drawn into gangs, rather than using “reactionary” enforcement powers.
“Stop and search is just a soundbite, the reality is it does nothing to stop the violence on our streets,” he added.
“Let’s just give the same police more money, to use more of the same tactics that are not working, and see if we get a different result. It makes no sense.”
The changes mean that lower-ranked officers can impose section 60, over a longer period, and only have to believe that serious violence “may”, rather than will occur.
The Home Office said police forces will be required to record data around stop and search and monitor its “fair and proper use”.
The College of Policing is currently consulting on new guidance for forces on community engagement around stop and search.
John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said officers would attempt to carry out searches in a professional and dignified way.
“Being stopped and searched is not a nice experience, I accept that and I understand it’s contentious,” he added.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the power was necessary to tackle violence and prevent attacks.
Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, the lead for stop and search, said: “Every day officers across the country seize horrifying weapons and are preventing further injuries and deaths by using their search powers.
“Section 60 powers to stop and search anyone within a designated area can be extremely effective when there have been violent incidents and police commanders believe there is a high risk of further violence occurring.”