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'Why I support stop and search'

TACTIC: A police officer stands with a young man during routine stop and search operation

STOP AND search. My word. Few things get the community riled up like those three little words.

I recall listening to Voice columnist Dotun Adebayo’s radio show recently, and one of his guests, an ultra-angry young brother, claimed to have been stopped and frisked by the Old Bill more than 30 times in the previous year.

So angry was this young man that another guest who had called in to discuss his arrest earlier in the day at a London demonstration against the Congo’s Kabila regime, felt the need to keep silent and let the young man vent. And vent he did.

I recently attended a Grapevine event (hosted by Paul Lawrence and Tony Harrison of the Life Skills Training Consultancy) on stop and search. The panel for the evening consisted of police superintendent Leroy Logan MBE, lawyer Tunde Okewale, and Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, a former policeman. Eddie Nestor chaired the event.

The evening attracted a room full of people who were almost unanimous in their disgust for stop and search.

The debate began with the audience being asked for an adjective to describe stop and search. ‘Racist’, ‘pointless’, ‘stupid’, and ‘ineffective’ were some of the offerings thrown out from the crowd. Paul Lawrence then suggested ‘necessary’. The reaction to this ranged from agitation to anger... to support – from me, at least.

In principle and practice, I fully recognise that stop and search, when administered lawfully, is necessary.

That evening I learnt exactly how stop and search should be administered, exactly how the police should conduct themselves, and on what basis one can be stopped and searched. I strongly suggest you read up on it if you haven’t already.

The current problem with stop and search, as highlighted by Brian Paddick after a detailed explanation, is that it is often administered in a manner which is not based on ‘specific information of criminal activity’, but rather on mere suspicion, often linked to race. And therefore, racist.

Needless to say, I do not and cannot agree with police tactics when maladministered. This should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. With that said, if you take away the emotion and the malpractice, and if it is conducted as the procedure requires, stop and search is an undeniably necessary policing process.

At one point in the discussion, a friend and I were chastised for ‘not caring about the long-term damaging effects of stop and search’ (for example mistrust of the police) because we had ‘never been’ subjected to it.

When I responded that I had been stopped and searched before, and had no problem with it or with the police, the lady leading the chastising paused and, seemingly without a hint of irony, said “That is because you have nothing to hide.”

The passion with which people in the room opposed stop and search only dimmed when confronted with this question: would you rather your child be stopped and searched in error or harmed by someone who was erroneously not stopped and searched? Exactly.

Within one week of the Grapevine event there were at least nine stabbings in south London. Tragically, this included one fatality, Kwame Ofosu-Asare, a totally innocent 17-year-old model student. This is south London we are talking about, not South Kabul. These are our children – black, white and otherwise – who are being killed. And not all of them are angels; a tiny few are carrying knives.

Our heads have been buried in the sand for far too long on this. We have two choices here: bad and worse. Being stopped and searched may not be nice, may be a nuisance, may occasionally even be administered by a bigot with a police badge, but it is infinitely preferable to watching a child being lowered into the ground before their time.

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