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Stop and search 'reforms': Too little, too late

LONG-RUNNING TENSIONS: One of the iconic images from the 1981 Brixton riots which erupted over heavy-handed stop and search

THE HOME Secretary’s plans to ‘reform’ stop and search powers have been branded by some as “weak” and “insufficient”.

Though Theresa May’s announcement includes a partial revision of the code of conduct, there are concerns that the changes do not go far enough.

While she has pledged to further clarify what “reasonable grounds for suspicion” – the legal basis upon which officers carry out the vast majority of stops – actually means, there was no mention of a return of the ‘stop and account’ form, which was scrapped in 2010.

Stop and account was a key recommendation from the Macpherson Inquiry into the 1993 murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence.

May announced the reforms following a public consultation into ‘stop and search’ powers last year and a recent inquiry by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, which found 27 per cent of searches may have been illegal.

It also found that more than half of all forces in England and Wales were ignoring some rules on stop and search.

A spokesperson from the east London Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), set up to hold police officers to account, said the figures “indicate that police forces are incapable of interpreting and adhering to the legal requirements in their own codes of practice and [as a result] requires a far stronger response.”

May has admitted that the powers were being misused and “hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public.”

CRITICAL: Diane Abbott MP said the reforms are ‘watered down’

She added: “The consultation generated more than 5,000 responses, but it was clear there was a sharp difference in attitude between those on the receiving end of stop and search and those who were not... While 66 per cent of white people thought stop and search powers are effective, only 38 per cent of black people agreed.”

Her proposals include a review of stop and search training, assessments to test officers’ understanding of the rules and a crackdown on misuse with officers facing disciplinary actions or being barred from using the powers.

Responding to May, Neville Lawrence OBE said: “Stop and account should be at the heart of any revision to the police code. This would deter rogue racial profiling.”

The Metropolitan Black Police Association (BPA), however, said they were “a step in the right direction.”

Chair Janet Hills said: “These new guidelines present an opportunity for police managers to ensure that their officers are using stop and search powers in a targeted and intelligence-lead approach. Managers must hold to account those officers who abuse the powers or who operate outside the code of conduct.”

Diane Abbot MP said it was “encouraging” for the impact of ‘stop and search’ powers on “relations between minority communities and the police” to be rcognised.

But she added: “For those of us who have been campaigning on this issue for a long time, it was disappointing that today’s announcements appeared to be a watered-down form of the major changes the home secretary called for last year.”

REFORMS: Theresa May, pictured here at an event held by the Police Federation, has announced ‘reforms’ of the way stop and search is carried out

The BBC's home affairs correspondent, Danny Shaw, said some of the home secretary’s original proposals were blocked by Downing Street amid concerns it might leave the Conservatives looking soft on crime in the run-up to the general election in 2015.

Labour challenged May in Parliament, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper declaring that the home secretary’s proposals were “frisked of serious substance”. Cooper, in tackling May, questioned why she had backed down on issues like banning targets.

Kojo Kyerewaa from campaign group The London Campaign Against Police & State Violence said May's proposals were “weak and insufficient”.

He added: “It is more than 30 years after the Brixton uprisings and the Scarman Report, so it is about time this pernicious power was abolished."

NMP is concerned that some of the proposed measures, like ensuring the public can view ‘stop and search’ records more often, were in reality ineffective.

The NMP spokesperson added: “From our own experience of having done this this year, we did not find it to provide enough information to make any meaningful comment.”

The spokesman added: “Our concern is that this is ad-hoc and too weak to impact on embedded cultures of bad practice. If local communities are to be genuinely empowered against police abuse of powers, robust independent oversight is needed alongside changes to the law."

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