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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 17:30 GMT
Stop and Search: Is it justified?

The Metropolitan Police says officers are so worried about being accused of racism they are losing the fight against crime.

The number of incidents of stop and search has halved in the 10 months since publication of the McPherson report which accused London's police force of "institutionalised racism".

The report says that blacks and Asians are still more likely to be searched, and has criticised the way in which searches are conducted.

But the police say stop and search powers are a necessary crime-busting weapon.

Have you been stopped and searched by the police?

Should the police continue stopping and searching randomly? Is it a good method of policing?


I believe that the police have achieved what they wanted to by the release of that statement. Amazingly, like immigration, the issue of crime has now been made synonymous with race. Saying that curtailing stop and search activities because of accusations of racism will lead to an increase in crime implies that blacks are criminals and not stopping and searching them will result in an increase in crimes. Or, are they saying that whites stopped and searched also accuse them of racism. This is just another ploy to carry on as they are but this time with the blessing of the British public.

Serial killers: overwhelmingly white males, usually in their thirties and in menial jobs. Is it racist (or ageist for that matter) for the police to consider the available statistics when investigating a serial killer's crimes ? Same thing for other crimes.
Tazio Alberto Nuvolario, UK

If you have nothing to hide, then stop and search should not affect you. Yes, more black teenagers are stopped that white, but the police are not to blame for this. It's those black teenagers who push up the crime figures that give us all a bad name. I for one am willing to put up with losing half an hour of my time if it means that those criminals are put away.
Michael, London

I think that stop and search has always been abused and always will be. There is little doubt that there are occasions when the necessity for such an action is required but to allow it as a general methodology for action is unethical and discriminatory in effect. Surely it is time for the police and the judicial system to bring itself into the twenty-first centiry and begin to embrace human rights issues as coexisting with the rights for security and safety.
Guy, Scotlland

Yes, definitely. There are so few police on the streets that all the "minor" crimes are not even bothered with. Anything which gives the Police a higher profile and has any sort of deterrent value has to be praised. When I was younger I used to get stopped from time to time because of the way I looked. It was annoying, but that's all. I had done nothing wrong, made sure I answered the routine questions and I was always on my way in a few minutes. If that's the price to pay for a bit more security on our streets then so be it. I'm tired of waiting to find out WHEN my car will be vandalised, my house robbed, my wife mugged. It is a fact of life that young men commit the overwhelming majority of crimes. And the overwhelming majority of those are the under educated, so they are bound to be more heavily targeted for stop and search than a rural blue rinse granny.
Graeme, England

Surely this was one of the key factors that started the Brixton rights in the eighties. If I remember rightly. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Jo, UK

On principal, I object to the police having any powers of "stop and search" anybody, for any reason, without the traditional "just cause" having been established. In the English speaking world, the rule of innocent until proven guilty is an assumption that we give up at our peril.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Absolutely not. Stop and search is a despicable abuse of human rights. The police should concentrate only on catching the perpetrators. Courts should be the ones who make sure it doesn't happen again. Preventative policing can only lead to a serious loss of liberty.
Alex Stanway, England

Being stopped and searched is a violation of personal freedom. With this law on there side, police are able to harass and intimidate perfectly normal members of society. I have seen police harass people on my local streets. There needs to be a law to keep an eye on how the police handle their business.
Nick, Brixton London

First of all, the police in Britain should only employ mixed race teams to do this sort of job. That means they have to first sort out some of their own internal mismanagement. Second, I don't mind being searched as long as it is being practised with a certain level of respect. I detect the same old mistakes and prejudices in all European police forces. If you as a citizen dress casually, wear unconventional hairstyle and drive a not so new car you are much more likely to be stopped and strip-searched. I remember abuse, humiliation and lack of respect for basic Human Rights. This I experienced in the U.K., Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, countries which are supposedly very civilised. I can't see it as a so-called crime-busting weapon. That's not how you find the real crooks. The big criminals need to be sorted out first, before there could be any progress at all. A good policeman or policewoman must have a good nose for criminals, otherwise they are useless.
Robert M.Schors, Belgium

It would seem to be the only deterrent that the police have. A criminal is less likely to carry the tools of his trade if he could be stopped by police. The only alternative is to wait until the crime has been committed and the person will probably get away with it.
Philip Ross, England

I am white and 20 years old. I have been stopped lots of times by the Police, it doesnt bother me. Racism in the UK is an issue that has got out of hand now. If someone says the word racist everyone automatically thinks white against black, this is totally wrong. Some black people have used this to their advantage. It is so easy to blame the Police, they are just dong their jobs. They risk their lives for everyone regardless of colour, in fact the Police are probably more helpful towards coloured people than whites now. It has to stop.
Mark Hughes, England

I have no contacts with the Metropolitan Police, but I feel that it is they who get the raw deal at the moment, not those who commit crime on our streets. The key issue here is not race or hair length but the effective fight against crime. If the searches are effective against crime then they should be used and increased. The whole aspect and use of the word "Racism" has become a joke to most people except the minority who suffer this evil crime each day. Our Police go on to the streets of London each day to protect the public from criminals such as thieves, drug dealers, muggers and Yardie gangs. They do a tremendous job in what must be incredibly difficult and dangerous environments. The Metropolitan Police has I believe, 180 000 officers. Some, by the law of averages, are probably racist. But to say that the whole force is "institutionally racist" is insulting to them and the people they help every day of the year. I challenge anyone, to show how they are "institutionally racist", but first they should state if they going for public office and which offences they have been found guilty for in a court of law?
Rob , United Kingdom

Before everyone starts to make generalisations based on their own limited experience, one must emphasise the role of police and the fact that they are on the front line against elements of society that tend not to acknowledge authority and the rule of the law. On this frontline they expect little support when things go wrong, even from their own superior officers, and yet frequently are injured, verbally abused, harassed and occasionally killed. If the press and certain elements of society, in the name of political correctness, wish to castigate the police, who are after all human, at every turn then it would be nice to see policing completely withdrawn from those critics - see where that gets them!!
James, UK

Stop and search is a very useful tool in the fight against crime and should continue. The guidelines laid down should be strictly enforced. More Blacks will be stopped than white but this is understandable. Crime profiles show that if the Police are searching for a mugger it is 80% likely that this will be a black teenager. So it is pretty pointless to stop an elderly white man.
Ronald Banks, UK

Rather than reduce the amount of stop and searches, the issue of racism should have been tackled. However, read the story on the BBC news site today of the man who has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend's 4 year old child after submitting him to terrible cruelty. His family has taken up the old cry of "racism!" because he is black - if this is the kind of thing that makes the police racist then it is a ridiculous accusation. Political correctness gone mad and positive racism is just as harmful.
Anne, UK

It is high time people re-visit the term Racism, it has become the scapegoat for many evils, and many wrongs are passed by because we fear to be branded racist. The police are there primarily to protect the public, and I for one agree that they should stop and search suspicious characters. If you are innocent and have nothing to hide, then feel happy that the police are alert enough to keep a vigilant eye, of course most of the people complaining about it are obviously frightened that they will be found out... We should support the police in their work and thank the men and women that risk their lives daily to protect us, rather than to go on branding them as racists.
Gretl Coudrille, UK

It all depends on the circumstances. I've never been stopped and searched, but if I was, I would be terribly offended and I would most likely make a formal complaint. However, I can see that the police would generally pick out people who are likely to be up to no good. In this case I think it's a good idea. I think that the police should search suspicious looking characters (on foot or in a car) that are known criminals or who have caused distress to the public with their rowdy behaviour.
Dr. S, UK

From personal experience, in the past the police have been pretty clueless about implementing the rules fairly. About eight years ago I was working as a gardener in central London during the summer. Two policemen stopped me and asked that I empty my pockets. They only explained why when I asked. They had a report of someone sticking contact cards in phone boxes that answered my description ... and that was? Someone wearing a white T-shirt and cut off jeans. This was the height of summer. Every third person was wearing that. This was probably not malicious, rather just lax. But lax is not good enough in such circumstances. Maybe the Macpherson guidelines have made them more scrupulous over such matters. Thank you.
Jon, UK

Suppose I stop 100 A reg. Fiestas at random and find 25% of them are carrying stolen goods. I stop 100 V Reg. Jaguars at random and only one of them is carrying stolen goods. Logic then dictates that to reduce crime I should focus most of my resource on A reg. Fiestas rather than V reg. Jaguars. However I should continue to devote some of my resource to stopping other car types, and monitor the results. Essentially the point is that each person's risk of being searched is a statistical function of their car. The innocent in the 'wrong group' is suffering disproportionately for the good of the general population. It's not nice for them, and it isn't very egalitarian. But it is logically the best way to reduce crime for the general public. If the measure is colour, and if the statistics do genuinely support a strategy of disproportionately stopping black males between 18 and 25 then this is logically the best approach. It is disadvantaging innocent young black males purely on the basis of colour, and is therefore racist. The corollary is that unless crime is spread evenly across all boundaries then the most effective policing will probably be racist, sexist, ageist and class-ridden. The problem is compounded if the statistics used to justify a strategy are unsound, or the police enjoy the strategy for the wrong reasons. But basically we can have optimal policing strategies, or our ideals of equality. We can't have both unless the profile of criminals supports it. And yes, I am white. And yes, I have been stopped and searched in the past. Something to do with being young, wearing denim, having long hair and carrying a bag in a middleclass area at one o'clock in the morning.
Mick, UK

As a method of policing it is definitely open to abuse.
Wendy, UK
I'm white, female and live in an affluent area and have never been stopped by the police - hmm, funny that. As a method of policing it is definitely open to abuse, and as I still believe there is entrenched racism in the police force, I do not think has much merit.
The police often whine about being fearful of being branded racists, but to my mind if you are not racist and do not behave in a prejudiced way you should have nothing to fear.
Wendy, UK

I think that police should carry on what they are doing. I can see why they are not doing it maybe as much, but whatever you do there is always going to be a argument about it from someone. There is too much crime in this world and the sooner it can be stopped, or reduced the better. I feel that they are only doing their job so I think it should continue the way it always has. If the public feel that when they are searched they are not dealt with properly then they can complain but if the Police are suspicious and have evidence maybe then they are only doing their job.
Jane Love, England

I have never been stopped and searched but even if I was, I wouldn't mind. I am white but I've got nothing to hide. I for one welcome these searches.
Tony, UK

If you have nothing to hide you should not be concerned about the police doing their job as they are there to protect the law abiding public.
Marie, UK
Definitely a good idea - the argument for it is the same as that for carrying identity cards - if you have nothing to hide you should not be concerned about the police doing their job as they are there to protect the law abiding public. I am not ignoring the small number of miscarriages of justice, but the fact is that they are only a very small number and the number of corrupt police officers is very small too.
We should not tarnish the reputations of hard working, decent and brave police officers of all ranks as a result of the actions of a few. If the fear of being accused of being corrupt/racist/sexist or anything else just as offensive and career threatening is preventing our police forces from successfully tackling crime then we should be prepared to surrender a portion of our civil liberties, stop shouting about our rights and accept that the police are only able to do their job with our support.
Marie, UK

The evidence starting to emerge since the ludicrous "institutional racism" findings of the MacPherson Report suggests that this an effective method of prophylactic policing. It's power lies in its randomness.
Chris Klein, UK

Stop and search is a very blunt instrument when it comes to crime reduction. The police forces themselves admit that the arrest rate resulting from the practice is less than even 20%. As a publicly visible strategy it acts as a double-edged sword: people can see the police 'doing something', but at the same time it serves to reinforce the stereotypes aimed at the minorities who are disproportionately its targets.
Put it this way: if 10% of the average population would be arrested if randomly stopped and searched, and one group is stopped 4 or 5 times more frequently than anyone else, their average arrest rate will be higher. This is the reality of stop and search: police officers use the already skewed statistics regarding ethnic minorities and crime to make judgements about who they should target, which in turn feeds back into the same statistical base, skewing the figures further. Stop and search only makes sense as a deterrent if police officers perform *truly* random searches, without regard for the ethnicity of suspects.
W G Enriquez, UK

I think stop and search is equivalent to fascism and only serves to help the police criminalise more innocent marijuana smokers. It's a terrible idea.
Trevor Blayney, Ireland

I have seen and experienced time and again, blatant racism from the police.
Chris C, UK
They should be worried. For too long it has been an excuse for certain individuals to abuse the power given them and indulge their prejudice tendencies. I have seen and experienced time and again, blatant racism from the police. I have not been stopped, but my friends have and I've been with them at the time, because they are black and I am white, it's that revoltingly simple. Until we have faith in the police that this kind of institutionalised racism has been dealt with sufficiently, then stop and search should be contained to very clear and justified criteria. At the moment, it alienates too greatly, it does not build good relationships or trust.
Yes, it does make it difficult for officers who are not prejudice or looking to use their power to hurt others, but until the police force is trusted, then they won't be able to do their job properly. This job attracts thugs and inadequate people, who are just dying to get in a uniform and abuse others. I feel sorry for the few who genuinely want to serve ALL of the British public for the better.
Chris C, UK

What a lot of rubbish, it has always been known that police men are 75 percent racist. Why are they trying to pretend that it is untrue now, my advice would be they should spend at least 3 months in the ghetto to understand the people. They should stop picking on those who cannot defend themselves and try to be a bit more humane, after all their responsibility is to stop the crime and not driving the people towards more crime;
Joan Margaret Cafane, France

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See also:
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Racism fears 'holding back police'
14 Jul 99 |  UK
Police 'not logging stop and searches'

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