Ending Racial Bias in Police Stop and Search

In April 2014, Prime Minister Theresa May (who was home secretary at the time) voiced what many of us have known to be true for decades: Stop and search is both discriminatory and ineffective at fighting crime.

May announced major reforms to improve the regulation and oversight of stop and search practices in England and Wales. This included the introduction of a “best use of stop and search” [PDF] scheme to improve standards, national training for all police officers including a module on implicit bias, and annual inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. May argued that this comprehensive package of reform would “contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop and search” while also providing “better and more intelligence-led stop and search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios.”

She was right: The last four years have seen striking changes to the police use of stop and search. The overall numbers have reduced sharply, to the lowest level in 15 years, and there has been sustained improvement in the quality of grounds (the reasons given for conducting searches) recorded by officers, as well as a marked increase in the arrest rate resulting from stop-searches.

But when it comes to racial disproportionality—May’s ostensible reason for introducing the reforms in the first place—the situation has become worse. And as a new report, The Colour of Injustice: ‘Race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales [PDF] highlights, reductions in the overall use of stop and search have been accompanied by greater concentration on low-level drug offenses and black and minority groups.

Even though black people use drugs at a lower rate than white people, black people are now stopped and searched at a rate of nine times that of white people for drugs. This is a significant increase from the 2010 figures, where black people were stopped and searched at six times the rate of white people for drugs. For 2016–2017, every police force in England and Wales stopped and searched black people at a higher rate than white people.

The problem of disproportionality is no longer simply a matter of who is stopped and searched. Black people are treated more harshly when they are found in possession of stolen and prohibited articles including drugs. The detection rate from stop and search is similar for all ethnic groups, but black people are arrested at a higher rate than whites and given less serious out-of-court disposals (such as fines) at much lower rates. The number of arrests for drugs as a result of stop and search fell by 52 percent for white people between 2010–11 and 2016–17 but did not fall at all for black people.

The report shows that cannabis possession is driving much of the racial disparity in the prosecution and sentencing of drug offenses. Black and Asian people were convicted of cannabis possession at 11.8 and 2.4 times the rate of white people in 2017 despite their lower rates of self-reported cannabis use. More black people were prosecuted for cannabis possession than the supply of Class A or B substances combined whereas the reverse is true for white people. Black people made up over a quarter of those convicted of cannabis possession even though they comprise less than four percent of the population in England and Wales.

It’s scarcely believable that reforms, which were meant to address racial disparities are actually making them worse. So, what explains the failure of these reforms?

With the exception of the brief focus on unconscious bias in national training, none of the reforms directly address the mechanisms that are driving disparities in stop and search. The centerpiece of the reforms, the much-lauded best use of stop and search scheme, focused on compliance with national regulations, barely mentioning ethnic disproportionality and putting nothing in place to address it.

The national College of Policing training program on stop and search, which included a focus on unconscious bias, was rushed and poorly designed. An independent evaluation [PDF] of the training found some small positive effects on officers’ knowledge and attitudes, but little change to their stop and search practices; and the national roll-out of training to all officers has not prevented an escalation in disproportionality. This is broadly in line with research findings, which suggest that changes in implicit bias do not necessarily produce changes in behavior.

Ill-designed reforms have been coupled with police resistance and political point-scoring. Senior police officers and politicians have exploited concerns about rising violent crime to call for greater stop and search powers and an increase in the numbers. Research has repeatedly shown, however, that stop and search has little impact on knife crime and serious violence. A far more likely outcome than increased safety and decreased crime would be the further criminalization of black communities for low-level drug offenses that are largely ignored when perpetrated by other groups.

Simply put, racial disproportionality in stop and search will only be tackled effectively when there is the political will to identifying key drivers of disparities and put specific measures in place to combat them. This means addressing the selective enforcement of drug laws, the over-policing of areas with large black and minority ethnic populations, officer discretion creating the potential for ethnic profiling, and the differential outcomes resulting from stop and searches.

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Instead of Open Society Foundation, it should be Free Society Foundation.

Free society as a term seems like it should evoke Mr. Soros' motivation for wanting to become politically active, which I think no one could credibly deny was a valid reason.

There might be valid concerns about some of the consequences a free society brings but in general I prefer the consequences of a free society to an unfree one.

And ironically, free society is something I think Trump voters voted for as well, praise Kek.

The counterargument I can see is that a free society is vulnerable to chaos or destruction. But I think even in that instance, a spontaneous order arises. The real danger I see is in the stagnation of a society that regulates all behavior within carefully proscribed limits.

Stop and search is not just about drugs. London has a knife and acid crime epidemic. The perpetrators and victims are overwhelmingly and disproportionate to the population, black . The police need to search for these knifes and when young black men commit the majority of violent street crime a police service with limited resources would be foolish to stop and search a Asian grandmother for a knife or drugs . If you are law abiding and want to live in a low crime society stop and search is not offensive.

Actually most stop and search activity is about drugs. One of the report’s key finding is that Stop and search has become increasingly concentrated on suspected drug offences, most of which involve low-level cannabis possession. Two-thirds of all stop and search activities in 2016/17 was for drugs. This compares to just under 10 per cent of stop and searches focused on offensive weapons. Police forces are making operational decisions to target low-level drug possession offences over targeting stop and search at violence and more serious other crimes.

Police stop and search activity should be lawful and proportionate. Officers should only use the powers when they have individualized reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and can demonstrate that stop and search is more effective than other less-intrusive policing tactics. Over-used and miss-targeted stop and search does nothing to improve community safety and everything to undermine relationships between the police and black and minority ethnic communities.

Black people use drugs less than white people?

The quality of this article has to be challenged, there are stats quoted without any type of real substantiation.

If the open society wants to employ content writers they must ensure those writers create non biased articles based upon facts.

The article was based on a much longer 80-page report, the Colour of Injustice: “Race,” Drugs and Law Enforcement in England and Wales,” which can be found at: http://www.stop-watch.org/uploads/documents/The_Colour_of_Injustice.pdf

Specifically, the evidence on drug use by different population groups can be found on pages 3-4. Repeated surveys have shown lower levels of drug use amongst black and minority ethnic communities in England and Wales. This was most recently confirmed by Crime Survey for England and Wales 2016/17, with black, Asian and Chinese/other respondents reporting lower rates of drug use in the ‘last year’ than their white counterparts.

The full survey results can be found at: Home Office (2017) Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2016/17 CSEW: Data Tables (Table 3.01 Proportion of 16 to 59 year olds reporting use of drugs in the last year by personal characteristics2, 2016/17); https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/drugmisuse-findings-from-the-20... .

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