Police Action Centre: Taser roll-out did not follow Home Office guidance

Sophie Khan, Lawyer and Director of Legal & Policy of the Police Action Centre says that the Taser Working Group was able to highlight key issues of concern in the

Find Out More >

Abuse of stop and search powers is a crime – Guardian 7 January 2012

Officers who abuse their powers of stop-and-search to further a racist agenda should be prosecuted for wasting police time, according to a member of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry panel.

Dr Richard Stone, a leading adviser to the judge who produced the landmark Macpherson report in 1999, which concluded that the Metropolitan police was institutionally racist, said officers who targeted suspects on grounds of their skin colour alone should be charged with misusing public resources.

Speaking after last week’s sentencing of two of the killers of the black teenager, Stone said such a move would improve public confidence in stop and search, a police power that is under increasing scrutiny over claims of “racial profiling”. He added: “It is a crime to waste police time in this country. A racist officer is an incompetent officer, and if they’re wasting police time they should be charged.”

Stone said: “One black lad said to me, ‘They’re chasing after me, having a bit of fun because I’m a black boy, but they should be following intelligence.’

“That’s wasting police time. Why aren’t they charging these officers with a crime?”

The sentencing last week of Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, to a minimum of 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months respectively for the 1993 killing of Lawrence in Eltham, south-east London, has renewed the focus on stop and search, a policing tool criticised during the public inquiry into the teenager’s murder.

Macpherson’s report, which condemned the Met for failing to defuse tensions between police and the black community, identified stop and search as an issue, highlighting disparities in its use, including unrecorded and temporary stops of vehicles driven by black or Asian people.

Yet during the intervening years, figures indicate that the situation has worsened. In 1999, there were 1.03 million stop and searches under section one of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, with black people 5.9 times more likely than a white person to be targeted. During 2009 and 2010, that figure rose to 1.14 million, with black people seven more times likely to be stopped.

Dr Michael Shiner, of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics, said: “With fewer than one in 10 of these searches leading to an arrest, large numbers of mainly young black people are being unnecessarily criminalised, fuelling a sense of alienation and creating a more damaged and divided society.”

The use of stop and search was also criticised for its role in the August riots. Recent research by the Guardian and the LSE found that anger at the police was a major cause of the London riots, with 86% of rioters citing policing as an important, or very important, factor in causing the disorder.

The campaign group StopWatch points to the escalating reliance, particularly by Met officers, on the use of section 60 of the act, which allows police to search any person or vehicle for weapons in an area where serious violence is reasonably anticipated. It does not require reasonable suspicion as a justification.

The coalition government has also weakened accountability safeguards, removing the national requirement to record, stop and account, which was introduced in 2005, a key recommendation of the Macpherson report.

Rebekah Delsol, from StopWatch and the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the issue embroiled frontline officers and senior figures. “Rude, abusive and unprofessional conduct by officers is clearly a problem, but the problem goes much deeper. It is institutional and needs to be addressed as such,” she added.

Stone agreed, saying the failure to address racism was a leadership problem: “It’s become a matter of the leadership managing it, managing the media and responses to it, rather than addressing the deep-seated attitudes of police officers, which need to be changed.”

Campaigners are hopeful that the convictions of Dobson and Norris will bring about a fresh look at the problems generated by stop and search, particularly the blanket way in which it can be deployed. Last month the home secretary, Theresa May, announced a national review of how police used the powers.


For Feyi Badejo, stop and search is a part of life. In Peckham, south London, the 17-year-old says his peers are used to being targeted.

“I’m doing nothing wrong, on my own, sometimes I’m in front of my house when I am stopped. There’s not many people around here who have not been.” He has no doubt that he is targeted because he is black. “It causes a lot of frustration. You’re doing nothing and then you’re stopped and searched, labelled as a criminal. That makes some people hostile towards the police. For some it gets psychological: they become more aggressive towards the police, their attitude changes, they actually become criminals because they keep getting targeted.”

He says that, too often, police use the tool to intimidate. “If you are stopped and don’t give your name, the intimidation will worsen, they start making threats. Sometimes the police are relaxed, other times they are aggressive. Sometimes it’s just because something has happened down the road. It’s quite obvious that it has nothing to do with me.” The tactic, he says, is most evident with younger targets. “Between the ages of 13 and 16 they pick on you. They tend to search you less when you get older, but they definitely put pressure on younger kids.”

The single most effective way to avoid being stopped, he said, is to change dress sense. “When I was younger I was wearing tracksuits, trainers, baseball cap, but I changed the way I dress and as I got older became less targeted.”