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Jon Silverman, Home Affairs Correspondent
"Many of the stops of young Asians are drug related"
 real 28k

Assistant Commissioner Denis O'Connor
"We should encourage officers to engage in good stops"
 real 28k

Dr Marian Fitzgerald, author of the report
"The danger is that we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater"
 real 28k

Charles Clarke and John Greenway
The Home Office and Shadow Home Office Ministers discuss the report
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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 13:52 GMT
Racism fears 'holding back police'

police racism graphic But police may be too aggressive towards young Asians

Metropolitan Police officers are so worried about being accused of racism that they risk losing the fight against crime, a report has said.

The number of incidents of stop and search in London, a practice dogged by accusations of racism, has halved since the Stephen Lawrence report in February.

But crime has risen sharply since the report into the murder of the black teenager, it says.

However, the report said the "overarching" issue is the manner in which the searches are conducted, with police heavyhandedness in particular "alienating" Asian youths.

The police welcomed the report, saying it showed for the first time a firm statistical link between stop and search and crime, and would boost confidence in the power.

Dr Fitzgerald: "Police may be using it for social control"
Met Assistant Commissioner Denis O'Connor said it also showed that the "disproportionality" between the number of black, white and Asian people stopped was lower than had been believed.

However, he said the force would have to change the way some officers conduct the searches.

"Some officers are not as courteous as they might be, they're not as civil as they might be," he said.

The power of stop and search was introduced in 1984 and now accounts for 9% of all arrests, about 80% of which result in conviction.

But a high incidence of stop and searches among the black and Asian population has led to charges of police racism.

Wednesday's 71-page study was carried out by former Home Office consultant Dr Marian Fitzgerald, on behalf of the police.

She found that, indeed, blacks were more likely to be searched than whites, and Asian youths more likely to be searched than anybody.

But she said officers were using the powers far less than they should be.

"The danger is that we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater," she said.

"There are certainly problems with the way the power has been carried out in the past, but we are seeing no gain in public confidence as a result of this fall in stop and searches."

We could be in serious trouble with this group 20 years down the road
Dr Marian Fitzgerald
She told a news conference that there was broad support for the tactic among all ethnic groups, as long as the power was carried out with civility.

Dr Fitzgerald said her biggest fear was that police heavyhandedness against young Asians, in particular, could lead to criminalising and alienating that entire group.

"Asians are much younger on average than the whites and the black people who are being stopped and searched," she said.

"They're much less likely already to have criminal records, they're much more likely to be searched in groups, and the groups tend to be larger."

She said police appeared to be using the powers against groups of Asian youths hanging out on the streets as "a measure of social control".

She compared the problem to that facing young black people about 20 years ago, under the notorious "Sus" law, under which police could stop anyone they chose, and which were abolished 10 years ago.

Pilot schemes

Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said the police were carrying out pilot schemes across the country - including some within the Met - to improve use of the power.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was vital to "ensure first that it's used as an effective weapon to fight crime, and second that it's used in a way that's non-discriminatory".

He added that the government was helping to develop police training initiatives to "ensure it is not used in a way which alienated people in the way Dr Fitzgerald described".

But Shadow Home Office Minister John Greenway, a former Met officer, said he had always been "doubtful" that stop and search was used disproportionately.

"You have to look at the pattern of crime," he said.

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See also:
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Stop and search: Two sides speak
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Police: We will improve
14 Jul 99 |  UK
Police 'not logging stop and searches'
15 Oct 98 |  UK
Blacks stopped more often by 'racist' police
24 Nov 99 |  UK
Police 'at darkest hour'
06 Sep 99 |  UK
Racism challenge to Met chief
11 Aug 99 |  UK
Stop and searches in London halved

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