Police defend increased use of stop and search following 20 percent rise in Northamptonshire
Critics claim figures show deteriorating relations with public and powers unfairly target ethnic groups
Northamptonshire Police has defended its increasing use of stop and search after figures showed numbers rose by 20 percent in a year.
Home Office data shows officers used stop and search powers 2,835 times across the county in the year to March 2021, up from 2,366 the year before despite months spent in lockdown.
It means almost eight people were stopped and searched every day on average last year.
The vast majority related to drugs and only nine percent led to arrests.
Critics claim the figures point to deteriorating relations between police and the public and say stop and search unfairly targets ethnic groups.
But a Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman said: “The force takes this element of policing very seriously, and we are determined to make our use of all police powers as fair and effective as possible.
“We recognise the use of stop and search is both intrusive and divisive and work hard with our internal scrutiny and community partners to monitor and inform our use of it, and to improve its effectiveness as a policing tool.
“Officers must justify their use of stop and search in every case, and all searches are reviewed by supervisors.
"Searches are also subject to independent review by members of the community through the Northamptonshire Reasonable Grounds Panel. Searches must be based on reasonable grounds relevant in the circumstances in each case, where the officer suspects that the person is carrying something illegal or dangerous.
“Evidence of disproportionality in the use of stop and search is closely scrutinised with the aim of eliminating it, including through our use of our stop and search working group and our ongoing work with community groups and local organisations.
“The reasons for a stop and search, and the results of a search, all feed into the action that then follows — some will of course lead to no further action, others to an arrest, but arrest is only part of the action a police officer can take in relation to a search.
“For example, they can seize an illegal item but take no further action to avoid criminalising someone for a first-time, low-level offence.
"They may also use community resolution, such as with a low-value theft where property is found, returned, an apology is given and the victim agrees to have the incident dealt with in this way.
"In Kettering, officers are using Stop Search to identify people struggling with drug addiction and offering them ways into training or employment as part of the Citdel project.
“Combined with early prevention and education initiatives to stop people carrying weapons and drugs in public in the first place, stop and search remains an effective method of taking dangerous or illegal items off the streets.”
Across England and Wales, the number of stop and searches rose from 577,000 in 2019-20 to 704,000 but the arrest rate fell from 13 percent to 11 percent – the lowest level since 2013.
Police monitoring organisation, StopWatch UK, says the vast majority of searches cause more problems than they solve.
Habib Kadiri, research and policy manager, also claims that across England and Wales, black people were significantly more likely to be searched than white people — though slightly less so than the year before.
In Northamptonshire, they were 5.3 times more likely to be stopped, compared to eight in 2019-20.
Mr Kadiri added: "What is exceptional is how racial disparities persisted even during a global pandemic, proving that the police never stopped working tirelessly to overpolice people of colour.
“We simply would not accept this of any other emergency service profession. The police must do better.”
Officers can stop and search anyone they have "reasonable grounds" to suspect could be carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something which could be used to commit a crime.
In Northamptonshire, 69 percent of stop and searches were for drugs — up from 64 percent in 2019-20.
Dr Laura Garius, policy lead for Release, which comprises experts on drug laws, said black and other ethnic minority individuals are being disproportionately targeted, despite drug use being no higher among these groups than among the white population.
She added: "The declining find and arrest rates are further proof that these powers are over-used, ineffective, and harmful to black and brown communities – in particular, black men – as well as those living in lower-income areas."