Don't fear racism allegations when you use stop and search, police told

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Police were today told not to be afraid of accusations of racism when carrying out stop and search, as a Home Office minister also promised a “hard-hitting” national campaign on knife crime. 

Sarah Newton said it was “really sad” if officers felt scared to carry out searches on black and other ethnic minority Londoners and that they should be confident to use the power.

Her comments, in an interview with the Evening Standard, follow an admission by Met Commissioner Cressida Dick that some of her officers had “lost confidence” in stop and search because of concerns that they would be accused of targeting people from ethnic minorities.

Ms Dick said these fears were misplaced and that claims of disproportionality were not supported by the fact that the success rate when searching black suspects was the same as for white suspects. This meant that there were not excessively high numbers of black Londoners being searched without anything being found.

Ms Newton today denied that the reduction in stop and search ordered by Theresa May when she was home secretary had contributed to a rise knife crime, saying blade offences had fallen initially as searches declined.

But she insisted that she and Home Secretary Amber Rudd fully supported an increase in the use of the tactic by the Met. 

Home Office minister Sarah Newton spoke to the Evening Standard about the rise in knife crime (Jeremy Selwyn)

“If an individual police officer feels they are worried about using this power for fear of being portrayed as a racist that is really sad,” Ms Newton said. “They should feel confident to use these powers knowing that they have got the full support of Cressida Dick and the Home Secretary to use them. 

“Police officers are well trained. There’s a very clear set of guidance about when you use stop and search, how you use stop and search. So long as they use it within the guidance, of course they should use that.”

She added: “No police officer has said to me that the reforms to stop and search back in 2010 were a mistake. If you look at what the results were, there was no correlation at all [with a rise in knife offences] because we saw a reduction in stop and search and a reduction in knife crime.”

Ms Newton also suggested that the Crown Prosecution Service could do more to ensure that courts impose the mandatory prison term for repeat knife offenders required by legislation — even though judges and magistrates, rather than prosecutors, are responsible for sentencing.

“We want to make sure that the criminal justice system uses all the powers that they’ve got, so if someone is caught in possession of a knife for a second time it’s an automatic custodial sentence. We don’t see the courts using that all the time,” she said. “I monitor it and then I take it up with the Crown Prosecution Service to issue guidance, which they have done.

Large knives have been seized by local communities and the Police to tackle knife crime (Alex Lentati)

“The courts are independent and the judges and the magistrates must make those decisions because they have all the information in front of them. But we do want to make sure that people understand how they can use the powers, what they are there to achieve and that they are well-used.”

Ms Newton added that the Home Office was “redoubling our efforts” in the face of an “extremely worrying” rise in knife crime, which has led to 15 teenage fatalities in London.

Among the new measures to be taken would be a “really hard-hitting” national campaign “to get young  people to understand the risks that they are taking by carrying those weapons”.

“Our campaign will be developed with young people who have been affected, with the charities that really know about diverting them away from this horrible activity,” said Ms Newton. “It’s speaking direct to those young people.

“The reasons why people carry knives are complex and that’s why we want to have a national campaign. It will involve social media. We are always reflecting back. We have to leave no stone unturned.”

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