Police forces in the UK are up to 28 times more likely to use stop-and-search powers against ethnic minorities than white people and may be breaking the law, new research from the official human rights body revealed yesterday.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission looked at police stop powers where officers do not require suspicion of involvement in crime, known as Section 60 stops. The power is used most by London’s Metropolitan police (the Met), which carried out three-quarters of the stops from 2008 to last year, some 258,000 in total. The next heaviest user was Merseyside, with 40,940 stops. Some forces barely use the power.
A Met officer is about 30 times more likely to use Section 60 to stop a person from an ethnic minority than a colleague outside London.
The figures show how often British minorities experience stop and search through Section 60 alone. The commission found that in 2008-2009, the Met stopped 68 of every 1,000 ethnic minorities in its area. This fell to 32.8 per 1,000 in 2010-2011. In the rest of England, it was 1.2 stops per 1,000 in 2010-2011.
Section 60 of the 1994 Public Order Act was introduced to target illegal raves. It gave police the power, if they feared violence or disorder, to stop and search suspects at a specific time and place.
Most stops in England and Wales require “reasonable suspicion” that someone is involved in crime. Section 60 gives an officer maximum discretion and privately, police fear its wide-ranging nature and the discretion it gives officers, plus allegations it is being abused, may lead the courts to strike it down — as happened with Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The commission said that while overall use of Section 60 had fallen, excessive use against ethnic minorities, known as racial disproportionality, had continued or even increased. The report found a rise in the percentage of ethnic minorities among those stopped under Section 60 from 51 percent in 2008 to 64 percent last year.
The commission said the police may be breaching their legal responsibilities. The worst rates of racial disproportionality were outside London, the commission said. An officer in the West Midlands was 28 times more likely to stop and search an ethnic minority than a white person. Nationally, the commission said ethnic minorities were 37 times more likely to be stopped under Section 60 than white people in 2010-2011. From 2008 to last year, the disproportionality worsened for the Met and West Midlands, while Manchester’s rate in 2008 to 2009 was 44.9 times greater.
Disproportionality meant an officer was 10 times more likely to stop Asian Britons than a white person, with the worst offender being West Midlands police. The commission said through Section 60 alone, ethnic minorities underwent more than 100,000 excessive searches from 2008 to last year.
Figures also show that section 60 may be ineffective.
“In England as a whole, only 2.8% of [Section] 60 stops and searches resulted in an arrest in 2008-09 and ... 2.3% in 2010-11,” the report said.
The fact that arrest rates are similar for ethnic minorities and white Britons suggests problems in how police use the power, the commission said.
“Black youths are still being disproportionately targeted, and without a clear explanation as to why, many in the community will see this as racial profiling,” said Simon Woolley, a member of the commission.