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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 16:29 GMT
Stop and search: Two sides speak

A report has suggested the sharp rise in London crime is linked to a fall in the number of stop and search checks performed by police.

This in turn is seen as the result of recommendations made in the Macphereson report that followed the Stephen Lawrence inquiry earlier this year.

Here BBC News Online talks to a victim of repeated stop and search checks and a police officer about the effect of the new guidelines.

A youth's tale

For about four years, between the ages of 15 and 19, stop and search was all part of growing up for Ain Uddin.

At its height, he says police would detain him three or four times a day in and around the estate where he lived in Stepney Green, east London.

He was arrested several times on suspicion of committing a crime, but never charged. He complained on several occasions but dropped each case fearing the trouble would re-bound on him.

The unremitting harassment left him hating the police and, although he is now a 26-year-old community volunteer, his antipathy has not waned.

He was still at school when first stopped by the police and learned to expect trouble as soon as he walked out of his flat. He was stopped on his own and with friends; when playing football or walking down to the shops. The incidents almost took on a routine.

Asian youths remaoin a big target in stop and search checks
"As soon as they see me come out the flat, they would pull up by me, they would ask where I'd just come from. I would tell them and they would say my description fits (that of a suspect) and say they need to search me," he recalls.

"They would go through my pockets, spread my legs and frisk me and then put my name through the radio and see if there's a warrant on me." At the time he had no criminal record, although since then he has been convicted in a robbery case.

Ain, who works with a local project called Dame Collets House, is sure he was a victim of racial harassment by the Metropolitan Police. The same police faces would pop up again and again, he says, but he continued to be stopped. Their attitude was not courteous but aggressive and intimidating.

Fear of backlash

Initially, Ain made complaints about the treatment - about seven or eight in all. A couple led to police interviews but he never went any further, fearing a backlash would make him even more of a police target.

"I never took it any further because they knew where I lived and see me on an everyday basis.

"I used to talk back to police and ask why (they were) stopping us. That used to make it worse. I just would see it as part of my life. I just accepted it because I saw it as a way of getting on, me like it or not."

Ain says he slowly turned to crime and "did not care about the police. I think it all built up from my youth days".

A police officer's tale

While the latest police report on stop and search focuses solely on London, forces up and down the country have had to deal with the shake-up that followed the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

In Swindon, which has a less varied ethnic make-up than many major cities, the recommendations made in the Macpherson report have forced officers on the beat think harder about stop and search, says PC Phil Davenport.

Police must feel the search is appropriate to an inquiry
The result, he says, is that, anecdotally at least, the number of searches have been cut and police are more jumpy now about subjecting a black or Asian suspect to stop and search.

"Over the past few months the Macpherson report has made them think even more deeply about the reasons of why they stop and search."

That is not to say that they did not carefully consider each case beforehand, he stresses. But now they are contemplating "factors such as what's going to happen at the end of this search".

"There's concern that they might get complaints made about them unnecessarily because of the publicity generated by the Macpherson report."

A 'tool' in solving crime

Stop and search is a useful tool in detecting crimes such as drug possession, possession of offensive weapons and burglary.

The mood of caution that followed Macpherson has hampered day-to-day police practice among the Wiltshire Constabulary, he says.

"There's a degree of concern among officers. My impression is that we are making fewer stops and searches. I would suggest that some of those (Macpherson) factors have a bearing on it."

PC Davenport, who is also chair of Wiltshire's Police Federation, says the force is "working hard to improve relations with ethnic minorities" under the new guidelines.

However, he points out that internal research has not revealed any abuse of the stop and search rules.

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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'
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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