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Fear of inequalities in ‘stop and search’ by West Mercia officers

By Lisa O'Brien | Crime | Published:

Black and minority ethnic people in West Mercia are four times as likely to be subjected to a police stop and search, figures have revealed.

They are nearly twice as likely in Dyfed and Powys.

Home Secretary Priti Patel recently announced a nationwide extension of a pilot scheme lowering the level of authorisation needed for stop and searches.

Police chiefs insist that the controversial tactic, which disproportionately affects ethnic minorities, is not racist but necessary to fight rising violent crime.

Data released by West Mercia Police shows that officers carried out 2,596 stop and searches of people between July 2018 and June this year.

They show that 14 per cent of suspects searched were BAME – although just four per cent of the population in West Mercia identify as BAME, according to population estimates.

West Mercia Police assistant chief constable Martin Evans said stop and search is an important tool to prevent and detect crime, and is closely scrutinised by an independent advisory group.

He said: “We constantly look at ways we can improve and value this independent scrutiny.

“While the number of black and minority ethnic people stopped and searched in the counties covered by West Mercia Police is disproportionate to our population’s demographics, a large proportion of those searched are not resident in our force area.

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“West Mercia Police is working hard to address county lines criminality, with successful results and the use of stop and search has been central to this proactive work.

“The number of stop and searches that have been carried out where items, such as drugs, weapons or stolen items have been found, has increased over recent years. This demonstrates that the right people are being stopped and searched, and the tactic is effective.”

Weapon

He said West Mercia Police is proactive in targeting those who cause the most harm and 12 months ago set up local policing priority teams to proactively do this.

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Dyfed-Powys Police data shows officers carried out 1,971 stop and searches of people during the same time period.

Four per cent of suspects searched were BAME.

In Dyfed and Powys, two per cent of the population identify as so.

Suspects were searched on suspicion of drug and weapon possession.

Adrian Hanstock, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on stop and search, defended the policy, calling it a “necessary power” to prevent crime and take weapons off the streets.

But he admitted people from BAME backgrounds were “overrepresented” in the figures, as well as in the criminal justice system as a whole.

Mr Hanstock added: “Chief constables examine any local disparities in stop and search data and work directly with local communities to explain the reasons.

'Vital'

“We know that trust in the police is lower among some communities and so we have made greater efforts to include representatives from those communities in our scrutiny of stop and search to help build confidence in policing and address the issues that are most important to them.”

Across England and Wales, police conducted nearly 70,900 fewer stop and searches over the last year – about 282,400 in total.

Use of the powers peaked in 2008 and 2009, when 1.5 million were carried out each year.

With levels of violent crime rising, the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, called stop and searches “vital” to keeping the streets safe.

The federation’s lead for operational policing, Simon Kempton, said: “Every officer who embarks on a search must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the person they have stopped is concealing something for example drugs or weapons.

“And the widespread use of body-worn video now means the majority of these interactions are recorded and open to scrutiny.

“It is an effective tool in the fight against crime and can help to reassure the public.

“While we appreciate that the tactic can cause concern to some, it can be vital for preventing and deterring crime on our streets, something which is crucial as we tackle the violent epidemic sweeping the country.”

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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