Tories tell police: Bring back stop and search

Police stop and search young black men at the Notting Hill Carnival.
Police stop and search young black men at the Notting Hill Carnival.
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Police must increase their use of stop and search to tackle knife crime rather than “appease” campaign groups who claim it is discriminatory, the policing minister has said.

Writing in The Telegraph, Chris Philp says stop and search is a “vital tool” in taking knives off the streets but warns it is “not used nearly often enough” by police.

It comes after use of the tactic became a major political issue a decade ago, when Theresa May, as home secretary, curbed the powers amid claims by campaigners that black people were being disproportionately targeted by police. The move resulted in the number of stop and searches falling dramatically, from a high of 1.2 million in 2010-11 down to 279,728 in 2017-18.

However, Mr Philp says: “The police must use the powers available to them without fear or favour. I want to see them take a robust approach and this starts with increasing the use of stop and search.

“In today’s climate police stop and search is the best foot forward, we know this. What we can’t do is tiptoe around using these powers in an aim to appease. The first priority must always be prevention and public safety.”

A senior government source added: “We cannot avoid using the powers to appease politically correct campaigners who oppose police action, when police action is needed to protect all communities.”

Mr Philp’s comments will be seen as the latest attempt by the Government to draw dividing lines between the Tories and Labour, before the general election.

The public think that crime is one of the most important issues facing the country, according to YouGov. The pollster’s long-running survey, which asks the public every week which issue facing the country is the most important, places crime fourth, behind health, immigration and asylum, and the economy. Nearly a quarter of those asked (23 per cent) chose crime as one of the most important issues, highlighting why the Tories believe it is an area where they can make gains over Labour.

Mr Philp’s comments come days after Rishi Sunak warned that Britain would be less safe under a Labour government.

On Tuesday, James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, announced that knife detection wands that could detect weapons from a distance and body-worn systems to check for knives were being developed as part of a £4 million drive to tackle the knife crime crisis.

Knife crime nationally has risen by 7.2 per cent to nearly 50,000 offences, close to the past record high of 51,200, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In London, which accounts for more than a third of all knife crime in England and Wales, it hit a record high of more than 14,500 offences last year..

Although stops and searches have increased from a low of 280,000 in 2017 after successive home secretaries reversed the restrictions, they have continued to drop in the Metropolitan Police to 137,059 in 2023-24, the second lowest on record.

Mrs May curbed the use of the tactic amid concern that black people were being stopped a “disproportionate” seven times more than white people.

However, Sir Mark Rowley, the Met Commissioner, this month pledged to increase its use after admitting it had fallen partly because of officers’ lack of “confidence” amid fears of “complaints, the investigation they get and whether they feel supported behind it”.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has backed stop and search as “an extremely important tool” against knife crime but said it must also be done in an “effective and fair way” because of community concerns.

Mr Philp writes: “I welcome the Met Commissioner’s commitment to increasing use of stop and search in London where knife crime is sadly particularly prevalent. But I want to see this commitment on a national level. We should leave people in no doubt that carrying a knife is a criminal offence and could lead to up to four years in prison.”

The latest government figures show black people were five times as likely to be stopped as white people, with 27.2 stops per 1,000 black people against 5.6 per 1,000 white people. But official data also show that black men were nine times more likely to be murdered and five times more likely to require hospital treatment.

Particular ethnic groups ‘not unfairly targeted’

Government sources pointed to data showing stop and search “success” rates – where drugs, knives or stolen goods are found – were about the same at 25 per cent to 30 per cent for all ethnicities, showing that particular ethnic groups were not being unfairly targeted.

“If you measure disproportionality by reference to the offending population rather than the general population, the disproportionality largely disappears. ⁠Young black men are hugely disproportionately likely to be victims of knife crime,” said a source.

As home secretary, Mrs May introduced the “best use of stop and search scheme” which required police chiefs to open up the tactic to public security and placed stringent safeguards on the use of “no-suspicion” searches. Within two years, stops and searches fell by two-thirds.

The Tory home secretaries that succeeded her, Sajid Javid and Priti Patel eased the restrictions. They lowered the rank of officer who could approve “no suspicion” searches, and allowed them in cases where the officer believed there may be violence rather than would be violence. New powers also give police the automatic right to stop and search adults convicted of knife offences.

However, Mr Philp says there are also safeguards to ensure the public are protected from “unnecessary searches and from disproportionate use amongst certain groups”.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor has always been clear that stop and search is a vital operational policing tool and has an important role to play in keeping Londoners safe and tackling violence on our streets.

“He fully supports the Met police around the use of intelligence led stop and search that is carried out fairly and with respect, so that the police retains the trust and confidence of all the communities it serves as we work to build a safer and fairer London for everyone.”


Police need a more robust approach to taking knives off our streets

By Chris Philp

The need for a zero-tolerance approach to knife crime has never been more acute. I know I share in the public’s shock at the horrific incident in Hainault on April 30. My thoughts go out to the family of Daniel Anjorin who are now living with the awful consequences of this crime.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the officers who intervened on that day, putting their own safety at risk to bravely keep further victims from harm. For some, this came at extreme personal cost and I wish the two officers who were injured a speedy recovery. Police put themselves on the line every day to protect the public and they deserve our gratitude.

The police are carrying out intensive action this week to tackle knife crime and on Tuesday, I was out on a raid with the Met to see these operations first hand. Police are ramping up their efforts and I am committed to giving them the tools they need.

We are making progress. Our streets are safer than they were in 2010 and hospital admissions for young people with serious knife injuries are down by a quarter since 2019, but I’m in no doubt there’s still some way to go.

The police must use the powers available to them without fear or favour. I want to see them take a robust approach and this starts with increasing the use of stop and search. It is a vital tool in taking knives off our streets, yet it’s not used nearly often enough.

So often these crimes stem from non-violent incidents which escalate when knives are carried in public. It’s illegal to be in possession of a knife in public without reasonable excuse and stop and search is the best way to enforce this.

More than 138,000 weapons have been removed from Britain’s streets since 2019 through a range of tactics, with almost half seized in stop and searches. Stop and search has also led to almost 300,000 arrests since 2019.

I welcome the Met Commissioner’s commitment to increasing use of stop and search in London where knife crime is sadly particularly prevalent. But I want to see this commitment on a national level. We should leave people in no doubt that carrying a knife is a criminal offence and could lead to up to four years in prison.

The police already have the power to stop and search individuals where they have reasonable grounds to suspect they are carrying illegal items, such as knives or drugs. Last year we went even further by launching Serious Violence Reduction Orders, which are being piloted in four force areas.

These orders give the police the automatic right to stop and search adults convicted of knife and offensive weapon offences. We have also removed non-statutory restrictions to make it easier for the police to use ‘Section 60’ searches, which allow officers to stop and search people even if they don’t have direct suspicions about them. Section 60 authorisation can only be enforced in specific circumstances, such as if the police have intelligence that an incident involving weapons may take place in a particular area.

Of course, we need safeguards in place to ensure these powers are used appropriately. There are measures in place to protect the public from unnecessary searches and from disproportionate use amongst certain groups.

I want to assure the public that we’ve updated the safeguards on stop and search to strengthen trust between the police and local communities. We have enshrined in law requirements on the police to communicate with their local communities when section 60 stop and search powers are authorised. We have also consulted on a new Community Scrutiny Framework intended to support the process of engagement between police forces and the communities they serve, which we will publish in the coming months.

This is just one tactic in the fight against knife crime and we know that prevention is as important as enforcement. Since 2019, we’ve funded 20 initiatives known as Violence Reduction Units in the areas across England and Wales most affected by serious violence. These have reached over 271,000 people in their fourth year alone and in combination with additional visible policing patrols, prevented an estimated 3,220 hospital admissions for violent injury since 2019. These units bring police forces together with local organisations to tackle the root causes of serious violence in that area, providing early intervention and prevention schemes for young people at risk of involvement in knife crime.

This Government has taken consistent action to address serious violence and the UK has some of the toughest laws in the world restricting dangerous weapons. We keep restrictions around all weapons under constant review and earlier this year we responded to new evidence by banning zombie-style knives and machetes which will take effect this summer. This follows the ban on zombie knives in 2016 and on cyclone knives in 2019. We are also taking action in the Criminal Justice Bill to tighten the law with new restrictions on knives.

And we’re not stopping there. Our approach to tackling serious violence is constantly evolving. This week we announced a further £3.5 million investment into knife detection technologies with the aim that one or more of these will eventually be deployed to officers to detect knives from a distance. We have also funded the refit and redeployment of four vans into new mobile live facial recognition units for the Met to bolster efforts to address knife crime, which is rising in the capital. This is part of wider funding which aims to tackle serious violence through hot-spot policing. The effectiveness of these units is well proven. In December 2023, deployments of live facial recognition in Croydon led to 15 arrests for offences including rape, robbery, fraud, grievous bodily harm and possession of class A drugs.

But in today’s climate police stop and search is the best foot forward, we know this. What we can’t do is tiptoe around using these powers in an aim to appease. The first priority must always be prevention and public safety.

Chris Philp is the Policing Minister

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