In March the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published Stop and Think, a review of the use of stop & search powers in 42 policing areas, which concluded:
The Commission argued that the use of stop & search powers "may be unlawful, disproportionate, discriminatory and damaging to relations within and between communities". Indeed, little has changed over the last decade - Home Office figures showed that in 2001/2002, black people were eight times more likely to be stopped and Asians three times more likely to be subjected to stop & search powers.
Nationally, black people are still stopped and searched at least six times the rate of white people. Asian people are about twice as likely to be stopped and searched as white people. The evidence suggests racial stereotyping and discrimination are significant factors behind the higher rates of stops and searches for black and Asian people than white people.
However, new Prime Minister David Cameron is on record as supporting the extension of stop & search so that officers can use the power at their own discretion and without the need to fill out a form. In 2008, Cameron went further, telling The Sun during a particularly muscular moment that more stop & search was now acceptable because the police are no longer racist:
Utter bollocks, of course, but far nearer to mainstream Tory opinion, which is heavily critical of the Human Rights Act and sees the EHRC under Trevor Philips as incompetent and too closely tied to New Labour, than to Dave's new Liberal Democrat bed-fellows.
"We are never going to deal with [crime] unless we free the police to do far more stopping and far more searching. I am quite clear the current rules have to go.
In the British police service there were problems with racism, there were problems with attitude. That needed to change. I think it has now been changed.
That change is a good thing. But it's now time to recognise that it is now possible for the police to carry out more stop and searches without being accused of racism. We will carry out a review to see how we would do it and would implement it very rapidly under a Conservative government".
So how will Conservative activists react to the EHRC decision today to write to the Metropolitan, Dorset, Leicestershire, West Midlands and Thames Valley police forces, asking each to justify the disproportionality of their use of stop & search and to provide information about meeting their obligations under the Race Relations Act?
And how will the EHRC's action been seen by Tories within a government that has pledged to "reduce time-wasting bureaucracy that hampers police operation"?
I look forward to pointers from Littlecock (otherwise engaged today in slagging off Cumbria's Deputy Chief Constable) and of course Mad Mel Phillips, but not until she stops frothing at the mouth about Cameron's reaction to the Gaza Flotilla.