Yesterday, the Home Secretary Theresa May confronted Britain’s police officers once again regarding causes of knife crime incidents. She rejected the country’s top police officer, Metropolitan Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s suggestion that her changes to stop-and-search were linked to rising knife crimes in London. The Home Secretary said: “it is simply not true that knife crime is rising because the police are no longer stopping and searching those carrying knives”.
This year there was a 24% increase in police-recorded violence, but the Office for National Statistics proposes the increase is likely a result of better recording by police, rather than an actual change in crime trends.
However, it is important to note what the reality of the situation is. In 2014, statistics showed black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. The figures, issued by the Youth Justice Board show that during 2014-15, 40% of prisoners aged under 18 were from black, Asian, mixed race or “other” ethnicity backgrounds (BME).
This inspired Theresa May’s speech in 2014 where she said her new approach caused a 90% drop in no-suspicion Stop and Search policy. It was her desire for the police to stop random Stop and Searches which was believed to discriminate against ethnic minorities, and that stop and search could only be applied when ‘real suspicion’ was present. May went on to say yesterday: “When stop and search is misapplied, and when people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is unfair, it wastes valuable police time, and it damages the relationship between communities and the police.
This recent speech is one of few that should be admired by the Home Secretary. One of the most important rights civilised societies have is the right to be left alone. Being targeted by authorities should only be on the principle of genuine suspicion. It is a slippery slope when we give up certain freedoms in the name of increased security. The evidence clearly shows no-suspicion Stop and Search did more harm than good. This should not just be restricted to police on the beat, it should be rolled out across the board. Our emails and calls should not be listened to unless there is evidence of very real suspicion on a particular individual.
Yet campaigners claim that BME offenders are more likely to receive custodial sentences than their white counterparts, even for the same crime – suggesting a degree of institutional racism in the courts. However, Frances Done, chair of the Youth Justice Board dismissed this claim back in 2011 saying it wasn’t deliberate discrimination, but due to “government practices that have not been thought through.” This leads one to believe there is still some unhelpful regulation in this area.
Despite success with this apparent 90% reduction in non-suspicion stop and search, there are still a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities caught up in this process. Higher crime rates are associated with poorer communities. Poorer communities often contain more ethnic minority populations. Places with higher crime rates will require more Stop and Search, so more BME individuals will be stopped more as a result.
The race card cannot be pulled when a white officer carries out his job by protecting the public for stopping and searching someone with suspicion to see if they are carrying weapons. Even with these new rules, ‘Stop and Search’ will not decrease if a particular area is rife in ethnic minority gang activity. With camera-footage requirements as well there is not much more we can do, now we need to let the police do their job.
Theresa’s comments on lack of BME representatives within the force however, once again proved unhelpful. Affirmative action or positive discrimination does nothing to solve the issue. It only serves to condescend towards the BME communities as it suggests they need more support than their white counterparts. It also increases tension between racial groups in the force and the public. Also, if these communities are involved in crime in these areas, it is very unlikely too many of the BME community in that area will want to join the police. Coupled, with continued media reports of institutional racism within the Police, why would individuals from minority ethnicities want to join?
The real issue is employment opportunity across the board. Unemployment is higher in poorer communities, poorer communities often contain more BME representatives. Reasons for this are complex but unemployment is not helped by affirmative action. To truly tackle these problems, income and employment opportunities have to increase, which in turn is achieved when people are given true equal opportunity and treated equally by police, authorities and government.
Theresa May for once, made a step partially in the right direction with her latest offering.