This article was first published in the New Nation, Britain’s number one Black newspaper (22nd March)
|Is it ‘cos I is Sussed?: community are increasingly aware of their rights
A leaked Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) report seen by Blink shows ‘suspicion of drugs’ topping a list of reasons for stop and search, and accounts for 68% of all stops. Yet drugs is near the bottom of the table when it comes to arrests. Only 7% of all stops result in illegal substances being found.
The huge disparity between stops and arrests for drugs has angered campaigners who fear the notorious Sus law has returned by the back door. They claim officers are stereotyping black youth as likely drug dealers, or misusing ‘suspicion of drugs’ to stop people when they have no other excuse.
The shocking statistics are contained in a draft MPA report into the use of stop and search in London. The police figures were collected between November 2002 and April 2003 and are highlighted in a submission to the MPA inquiry by the Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group. Although they relate to the south London borough of Lambeth, they are believed to reflect the pattern across the capital, and is bound to reignite the debate about whether officers are still racial profiling instead of using ‘reasonable suspicion’.
Blink can also reveal that the MPA inquiry is set reach damning conclusions about the way police use their powers in London when it reports next month. The MPA panel, chaired by magistrate Cecile Wright, will demand a massive 75% reduction in the levels of stop and search over two years. The hard-hitting report will also call for an end to disproportionate levels of stop and search affecting the black community.
When the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported in 1999, black people were five times more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts. Just five years later this disproportionality has increased dramatically, with black people now eight times more likely to be stopped.
|Up against it: cops may have their wings clipped by new report into stop and search
However the MPA recommendation expected to spark the most controversy is a call for tough disciplinary action against any officer found to be using their stop and search powers in a racially discriminatory way. That finding is likely to meet strong resistance from the right-wing Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.
Charles Bailey, a Brixton record producer and the brainchild behind a rap song and video for a London police ethnic minorities recruitment campaign in 1999, said he was appalled by figures showing ‘suspicion of drugs’ leading to most stops but very few arrests. He said: “In the last decade it was Sus, but in this decade it’s drugs. It’s an easy cover for officers to say they suspect drugs.”
The much-hated Sus laws were introduced in the 1960’s, and police use of these powers contributed to the inner city riots of the early 1980’s which led to it’s abolition. Bailey added: “Police officers really do need to look at themselves and realise that not all black people are criminals. They need to change their focus from cannabis and start concentrating on serious drugs like crack cocaine.”
Dr Richard Stone, a former member of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry panel, said officers were too willing to associate black people with drugs, but paid less attention to drug dealing in predominantly white private schools. He added: “Bad officers are looking for some sort of reason to stop black people. A lot of black and Asian people tell me they feel police are likely to target them as likely to be a drug dealer or addict.”
MPA stop and search panel member Peter Herbert said: “It’s ludicrous that you can have such different rates for stops and arrests on drugs. It appears to be a misapplication of their powers of reasonable suspicion, and as such is unlawful. My gut reaction is this is racial bias and is not an effective use of police time. They are further alienating the very people who are going to be important when it comes to partnership in fighting crime.”
And lawyer Sadiq Khan, who has represented several cases of police discrimination and brutality, said: “My concern is you’ve got huge numbers of people stopped and searched, but few are arrested, fewer still are charged, and a minor fraction are convicted. What they’re doing is criminalising, and giving members of the community a bad experience of the police.”
However local police superintendent Andy Tarrant defended the stop and search figures for Lambeth. He said: “We’re going to drill down into the figures and be honest, open and transparent, and involve the community. We did have a cannabis experiment running while the figures were being done so they need a health warning. We want to know what the issues are and find solutions.”
A new research study submitted to the MPA looking at the use of stop and search in the London boroughs of Brent, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Lambeth and Southwark has shown that most youth were given inadequate reasons why they were stopped. Interviews with 304 young people last year found that over half had been stopped more than five times, and that many regarded stops as a normal part of their everyday lives.
One respondent quoted in the study said: “They’re just on you, they’re so much all over you when they stop you.” Another said: “The police did not give me no good reason. On each occasion they failed to give me an explanation. The police said it was routine.” Although many felt stop and search was degrading and humiliating, of those interviewed only 18 had made a complaint and none were satisfied with the response. An ICM poll in 2002 found that while 55% of black people believed police discriminate on the basis of race, only 34% of white people think likewise.
|Reason For S&S
|Reason For S&S
Overall arrest rate
Source: Lambeth BCU, Nov 2002 to April 2003