Dear Mayor Khan,
I am writing to raise my concerns about your statements relating to the use of stop and search in London.
You stated that there would be “a significant increase in the use of targeted stop and search by the police across our city”. You went on to speak about the virtues of intelligence led searches and the use of bodycams by police officers.
Given your campaign promise to cut stop and search due to its detrimental effects on communities and your history opposing widespread use of stop and search as a human rights lawyer, I was surprised to hear you push for a more hard-line approach.
My most pressing concern is the damage your policy will do to community relations. It has been a longstanding complaint of London’s Black and Asian communities that they are over policed. This has created distrust and alienation among large sections of BME communities. Your policy will further damage the relationship between the police and these communities. I am sure you are aware of the disparity in stop and searches; that Black and Asian people are more likely to be stopped than white people (8 times more likely for a black person). Increasing the number of stop and searches will only increase the disproportionate targeting of Black and Asian communities. You state that this will not happen as searches will be intelligence led. You do not explain if there has been an increase in the quantity or quality of the intelligence so creating room for greater numbers of searches that will be intelligence led (or if police were previously ignoring intelligence to lower the number of searches). I suspect that there has not been an increase, which means that the increased number of searches will not be about intelligence but will be at the discretion of the officers. Given the history of minority communities being disproportionately targeted by police officers, your statement, in the absence of increased intelligence, is a greenlight for officers to discriminate against Black and Asian communities.
Further, the increase in stop and search yields little to no positive results, so it is astounding that you would agree to this. A Home Office study assessing the increase of stop-searches for weapons in London under Operational Blunt II in 2008/09, found that “there was no discernible crime-reducing effect from a large surge in stop and search activity at the borough level during the operation”, and the college of policing concluded that there was “limited evidence of stop and search having acted as a deterrent at a borough level”. Numerous studies have shown that in the long term stop and search does not help reduce crimes. It is inexplicable why you would agree to increase stop and searches when the evidence indicates there is little to be gained besides political grandstanding.
The issue of accountability is also crucial. You present bodycams worn by police officers as providing greater accountability. This is a distraction and does not begin to hold the police accountable for their actions. While the bodycam captures behaviour in isolated instances it does not address the reasons behind the officer picking an individual or group, nor does it deal with the proportionality and unequal impact the stop and search policy has on different communities.
The problems thrown up by stop and search have been known for many years to officials and communities, nonetheless there seems to be little appetite to deal with these issues head on. You have an opportunity to genuinely tackle disproportionality and discrimination during stop and search, which is unfair, counterproductive and alienating. This opportunity will be lost if you increase the number of searches unjustifiably. We believe the following recommendations will go a long way in dealing with these issues:
1. There needs to be greater accountability upon the police to their local communities. The Mayor’s office should reconvene the Stop and Search Community Panel (which was previously convened by the Home Office and which you and I were members of). The civil liberties’ implications of stop and search was one of your main priorities when you were a member of this panel and they remain an ongoing concern for London’s communities, particularly in light of the entrenchment of a surveillance culture that disproportionately targets members of ethnic and religious minorities. The Panel should consist of people from different communities as well as experts to represent the people of London. The Panel should be entrusted to review and scrutinise the implementation of stop and search across London and ask the police to address the concerns of local communities.
2. Cuts to frontline policing needs to be addressed. Greater police numbers are essential as is projects that seek to create a health relationship between the police and London’s communities. What we are seeing is an overstretched police force resorting to harsh and unworkable policing methods to make up for the lack of frontline officers.
3. Police officers must undergo regular training with a specific focus on conducting stop and search and what amounts to discriminatory targeting. Institutional racism can only be combatted by fostering a culture of non-discrimination.
I hope you will rethink your strategy and stand by your longstanding and principled stance against widespread and damaging use of stop and search in London.
I look forward to hearing from you.