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Last Updated: Friday, 20 January 2006, 08:08 GMT
London: Stop and search
Tim Donovan
Tim Donovan
Political Editor BBC London

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Police: Balance between public trust and crime reduction

Following the fatal stabbing of 31-year-old solicitor Thomas ap Rhys Pryce in Kensal Green and ongoing fears about terrorist attacks, the Conservatives on the London Assembly called on the Metropolitan Police to extend 'stop and search' radically.

They claimed it is a proven technique for countering violent crime.

Since the bombings of 7 July 2005 in London, the level of stop and search in connection to possible crime and terror suspects has increased.

Since October 2005 the number of stop and searches has gone up by 30%, according to the police.

Human rights pressure group, Statewatch says it affects people from ethnic minorities disproportionately - you are nearly seven times more likely if you are black to be stopped and searched, and twice as likely if you are Asian, than a white person.

Arun Kundnani of the Institute of Race Relations said: "A few years ago, we had the McPherson report which came out after the murder of Stephen Lawrence and said the police need to look at how they do stop and search.

"But since the Terrorism Act, ethnic targeting is getting worse.

"All it does is alienate large numbers of people who have nothing to do with terrorism.

"It is a really destructive policy."

Stop and searches are not just carried out under the Terrorism Act, but also in the case where police feel someone is acting suspiciously.

The Metropolitan police have powers to stop and search people under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 - but it requires officers to have "reasonable suspicion" that a criminal act is being committed.

The conservatives on the London Assembly believe the level of stop and searches can be increased further by reforming the current rules, which require officers to spend seven minutes or more, on average, filling in forms.

If this were scrapped, they state, officers would be freed up to carry out more searches.

The Metropolitan Police has warned that any change to rules has to carry the consent of ethnic minority groups.

Others question how efficient "stop and search" is for apprehending criminals.

On average out of 100 stop and searches of suspected criminals, only 11 arrests take place.

For terror suspects, the figure is much lower.

Brian Paddick, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said arrest numbers as far as terrorism was concerned were not a major consideration and that searches are carried out more as a form of deterrence.

But he said: "When it comes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act where officers should have reasonable suspicion, then the arrest rate is something we are very concerned about. "

The police have power to stop and search people under section 44 of the Terrorism Act in certain designated areas without having to show they have "reasonable suspicion" that an offence is being committed.

These areas are re-authorised each month in London by the Home Secretary.

Lawyer for rights group Liberty Alex Gask argues: "Usually there is a restriction on the police's power to stop and search because they need to have a reasonable suspicion that somebody is carrying a stolen item or has a weapon, or something along those lines.

But with this particular power there's absolutely no need for reasonable suspicion at all - so there's nothing restricting the officers' use."

Brian Paddick denies that the police are targeting people because of the colour of their skin: "We've seen a range from different backgrounds involved in terrorism and we're saying to officers that you should not be targeting people just because of their ethnic appearance."

The Home Office minister Hazel Blears has given government assurances that the powers would only be deployed when there is "a good reason to believe that there is genuinely a terrorist threat".

Also on Politics Show London

Zia Trench reports on how "stop and search" is being used in London, and in the studio we discuss whether stop and search is serving Londoners in the best way, and the police have found the right balance between safety and civil liberties.

And following the publication of schools performance tables and intense debate about the government's education bill backing more choice for parents and greater independence for state schools, we discuss the latest results in London schools and whether the proposed reforms will help them to improve.

The Politics Show

Join the Politics Show on BBC One on Sunday 29 January 2006 at Noon with Tim Donovan.

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