Today in Britain, some of our poorest communities are under siege from gangs and violent crime – and it can be stopped. It is near impossible for people to realise their potential when they do not even feel safe in their communities and so it is a social justice issue that the Home Secretary is right to weigh in on. Sajid Javid is said to be planning a significant extension of police stop and search. After years of restricting these powers, it’s about time.
Javid is far from alone in believing stop and search is part of the answer to dealing with surging knife crime and serious violence. The Centre for Social Justice’s poll of Londoners in July found 89 per cent think that increasing the chances of being caught is important to tackling the problem. But well-meaning activists and pressure groups have endeavoured to dominate and racialise the narrative around stop and search. Even today, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said that while stop and search ‘has its place’ it is ‘too often…used in a way which demeans and humiliates young black people in particular’.
This criticism of stop and search has been aided by the label of “institutional racism” that unhelpfully leads the ill-informed to believe that the police are, to a man or woman, racist. It’s a view that is reinforced when an inherently flawed methodology is routinely used to argue that, for example, a black person is 20 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched in Dorset. Such a statistic inevitably leads some to believe Dorset must be the most racist force in the country – even as they overlook the reality that it equates to the entire Dorset police force stopping 0.6 “too many” black people per day.
We also know from Home Office research that when adjusting for the available street population in an area (rather than the much less diverse census data), the racial disparity melts away. This flawed critique has been used to drive the huge reductions in stop and search in recent years, featuring in speeches by politicians, training packages for police officers, and workshops aiming to educate young people.
The damage of such mistruths being peddled shouldn’t be underestimated.