In March 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission claimed that most police forces unfairly targeted black and Asian male youths when using ‘stop and search’ powers. The EHRC found that black male youths were six times more likely to be stopped by police than same-age white youths. The EHRC also stated that Asian male youths were twice as likely to be stopped when compared to same-age white youths. The EHRC claimed that the police were guilty of racial stereotyping and discrimination. The Home Office responded to the findings of the EHRC’s report by stating that “improvements were still needed".
In September 2011, half of police forces in England and Wales announced that they would no longer record the race of people they stop and ask to account for their movements. ‘Stop and account’ is a common power used by police to stop people in the street and ask them to account for their actions, behaviour, reason for being in a place or in possession of something.
But 21 out of 43 police forces have decided to scrap recording the encounters – which was a national requirement until March 2011 – to reduce bureaucracy and save money and time.
Figures from a Freedom of Information Act request by ‘The Guardian’ show that five out of 10 police forces whose figures show they have a record of using stop and account disproportionately have agreed to the changes. These include West Midlands, Avon and Somerset, Thames Valley, Sussex and Hertfordshire police forces. Officers in the West Midlands – Britain’s second biggest police force – are seven times more likely to stop an African-Caribbean person than a white person, the Guardian said. Gwent is five times more likely to stop a black person while officers in West Mercia, Avon and Somerset and Warwickshire, are three times more likely to stop ethnic minorities than white residents.
‘Stop and account’ is used if the officers does not believe there are grounds to search a person but until March the encounter was recorded. Recording the ethnicity of people stopped was introduced in 2005 following an inquiry into the way the police handled the death of Stephen Lawrence. Officers will continue to record the race of people they stop and search.
In 2008-09, there were 1,126,258 stop and searches compared with 2,211,598 stop and accounts.
The Home Office told ‘The Guardian’: ‘From March 7th 2011 we have removed the national requirement to record stop and account, in order to reduce police bureaucracy. ‘These changes will save hundreds of thousands of hours of police time.’
Three of the police forces who have scrapped the data recording – Thames Valley, Hampshire and Herefordshire – will feature in a test case brought by electrical engineer Hugh Diedrick who claims he has been stopped and asked to account for his actions several times while travelling throughout the country. In the latest incident in July he says he was stopped in Hertfordshire because of his skin colour. His High Court legal case will say the forces’ decision to ditch the data recording was taken without adequate consultation and breaches equality obligations.
Critics have branded the changes to data recording ‘reckless and irresponsible’ while a UN report said the changes ‘may encourage racial and ethnic stereotyping by police officers.’
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex