Stop and search can be 'act of compassion' as it saves lives, Justice Secretary tells LBC

26 February 2021, 08:32 | Updated: 26 February 2021, 08:40

By Megan White

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has told LBC that he supports stop and search as it can be an "act of compassion" which "can save lives."

Mr Buckland told Nick Ferrari that stopping and searching people who are carrying weapons can actually protect them, as he has seen "far too many cases" where the person who carried the knife ends up having it used against them.

He said in that respect, stop and search can "be an act of compassion as much as it can be an act of policing."

Read more: Met Police Deputy Commissioner: 'Disproportionate' stop and search will continue

Mr Buckland's comments came after a police watchdog report found ethnic minority people were over four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and that black people specifically were nearly nine times more likely.

Data from 2019/20 also found black people were about 5.7 times more likely to have force used on them than white people, with figures showing they were more than nine times as likely to have Tasers drawn on them.

The Justice Secretary said: “I do support stop and search, but what I support is intelligence-led policing.

“I think it’s really important that we remember that in the old days, where you and I remember the Sus laws and we remember what that created, it’s 40 years since Brixton, but it is important to remember that we’ve come a long way since those days.

“I’m not going to say it’s finished business, there’s still more work to be done, but I would expect police officers to follow the law, which is that they need to have reasonable grounds for a search.

Read more: Ex-officer condemns 'political correctness nonsense' around stop and search

“That means using the information that they get and the technology they have to be told about various issues and to use that as a lawful basis on which to conduct those important searches.

“There’s no doubt that in very many respects, searches can save lives.

“The carrying of knives and other weapons can be apprehended and the individuals themselves will be protected.

“I’ve done far too many cases as a criminal lawyer where the person who carried the knife ends up having it used against them when it drops on the floor during a struggle.

“So stop and search can be an act of compassion as much as it can be an act of policing.”

The report was carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) as an inspection on the disproportionate use of police powers.

It highlighted how the killing of George Floyd in the US in May last year, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed in the UK and globally, have brought to light "once again the significant impact that police interaction can have, particularly on (BAME) communities".

It said: "Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.

"Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why."

The report reveals black people were also eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, for reasons the inspectorate said are "unclear".

Brandishing the use of these powers as "unfair", HMICFRS warned this risks further reducing public trust in the police and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupt their education and family lives and reduce their work opportunities.

"It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources," Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said in the report.

While improvements were made in 2018/19 in monitoring stop and search, the report states too many police forces still do not analyse and monitor enough information and data "to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used".

Inspectors found the most common reason given for the use of stop and search is due to suspected drug possession "rather than supply", which it said indicates that "efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities".

It cited one such priority as county lines, the criminal network of gangs that use a dedicated mobile phone line to distribute drugs, usually from an urban area to a smaller town.

"Forces often cite county lines as a reason for stop and search, but to be most effective, policing tactics to address this need to target drugs supply more effectively," HMICFRS said.

The inspectorate is calling on police leaders to consider whether focusing stop and search on tackling drug possession is an effective use of these powers.

Ms Williams said: "Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.

"It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.

"The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve."

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) welcomed the report and said the use of stop and search powers "within certain communities has long been a cause for concern".

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: "Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality - and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected - can we start to make the changes that are needed.

"The HMICFRS report highlights the fundamental shift we need to see in the culture of policing in being open and accountable when concerns are raised."

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said it is developing plans to address the disproportionality in the use of stop and search and to "explain it and take action to reduce it wherever possible".

NPCC's lead for stop and search, deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson, said the police body will "consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime".

She added: "We hold the power of stop and search on behalf of the public so it is vital our communities have confidence in the way it is used and that officers have the confidence to use it effectively and appropriately."

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said stop and search saved lives after it helped remove 11,000 dangerous weapons from UK streets last year, adding that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime.

He added: "We are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance, and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively, and that nobody is stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour."