Monday 26 July 2010

Heralding The Rebirth of Racist Stop & Search Powers?

Buried inside Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the People, the Home Office consultation on planned cuts, is the following:

3.13 By the end of this year, we will scrap the national requirement for the ‘stop’ form in its entirety and reduce dramatically the burden of the stop and search procedures. We will also maximise the use of available technology to further reduce the paperwork in policing so that, for example, an officer will only need to record manually three pieces of information on a stop and search record.

There is often confusion about what constitutes a 'police stop', much of it coming from police propaganda against form filling for what is often characterised as little more than a chat. It is always much more than that and involves an officer physically stopping someone in a public place and asking them to explain what they are doing, where they have been or are going to and what they are carrying. There was also a good reason why the form was introduced, which was the abuse of stop & search powers by officers directed against black people. Recommendation 61 of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1999 called for the formal recording of all stops and searches so that they could be properly monitored for discriminatory use and only last month, the Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened legal action against five police forces with the most disproportionate use of stop and search against black and Asian people.

Scrapping stop-forms in the name of cutting bureaucracy sends out a message that efforts to rein in racist and discriminatory behaviour by police officers are a tiresome burden. This at least has the virtue of honesty - many of us have long recognised that the police loathe having to fully account for their actions. But it is also a massive step backwards - and for some officers, an invitation to start misusing stop and search powers even more than they do now.

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