A serious problem like rising violent crime needs serious answers. But the government’s latest proposals aren’t serious at all.
The government has failed to tackle rising knife crime, which was up 12% in the latest 12-month period. But increasing random stop and search is just a smoke screen for not dealing with the causes of all serious crime, which have all been made worse by the government’s policy of cuts.
It will also do nothing to address the serious shortage of officers, which the government has cut by 21,000 since 2010.
There is no evidence that random stops reduces violent crime, yet the Home Secretary wants to remove policy, introduced by his predecessor Theresa May, that will grant the police further powers to stop and search, and will continue to see young black men disproportionately stopped.
Racism is against the law and should never be tolerated anywhere, but stop and search is too easily done on the basis of racial profiling.
Unless you have a young, male family member who is repeatedly stopped and searched, it is difficult to appreciate the bitterness and strain it causes.
Evidenced based stops will always be a vital tool in fighting crime, but random stops have only poisoned relationships between young people in inner cities and the police.
The Home Office’s own research, the College of Policing and her Majesty Inspectorate of Constabulary all found that there were very few arrests from random stop and search where there is not reasonable grounds. It is a waste of time and scarce resources.
It is not only counterproductive but the effect is to harass Black communities. A recent report published by Stop Watch (including Home Office data) found that black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched, yet the ‘find’ rate for drugs is lower for black than white people.
Of course the police need to be given the confidence and resources to do their job. But Conservative austerity policies are never going to help.
They are cutting much needed resources across the board, many of which lead directly to increased crime. At the same time, they have cut the police we all rely on to tackle crime.
Random stop and search is heavy on police time, often with little result. Conviction rates are low and the method is not an effective way of catching the most serious criminals. By contrast, intelligence-led stop and search can be important in fighting crime and of course this can be useful.
Strangely, it was a previous Home Secretary who recognised that the evidence pointed away from random stop and search, saying that the arrest rates were too low to justify it and a more targeted, intelligence-led approach was needed. That Home Secretary was Theresa May. But now it seems her government is abandoning evidence, and trying to chase easy headlines.
Earlier this year the cross-party Youth Crime Commission report found, ‘there is a damaging lack of trust between the police and some communities. This has become a serious barrier to change, including via a “wall of silence” when crimes are committed and communities do not share information with the police. Any future violence reduction strategy will have to place a premium on establishing trust and mutual respect.’
This is not helpful. The solution must be to work with communities rather than risk alienating them using these powers.
Labour’s last manifesto committed to increase police numbers by ten thousand officers, overwhelmingly to rebuild community policing. That’s the serious way to tackle rising crime.
We all have a duty to act responsibly and think clearly in response to a crisis and we must not ignore all our previous experience in this area. More police, better policing, better community relations are needed in the fight against crime.