Politics

Priti Patel lifts restrictions on police stop and search powers | Stop and search


The government is lifting restrictions placed on police stop and search powers in areas where they anticipate violent crime, the home secretary has announced.

In a letter to police forces on Monday, Priti Patel outlined the easing of conditions on the use of the tactics under section 60 of the criminal justice and public order act.

Section 60 powers give officers the right to search people without reasonable grounds in an area when they expect serious violence, and to look for weapons before they can be used or for those used in a recent attack.

The limitations were put in place in 2014 by then home secretary Theresa May.

Stop and search tactics are controversial because of concerns that they disproportionately affect black and minority ethnic communities, with campaign groups previously warning that relaxing the restrictions could compound discrimination.

The changes extend the length of time the powers can be in force from 15 to 24 hours. The period a section 60 can be extended to is now 48 hours, having previously been 39 hours.

The rank at which officers are able to authorise the deployment of stop and search has been lowered from senior officer to inspector, while a superintendent can now extend the authorisation.

Authorising officers now only need to anticipate that serious violence “may” rather than “will” occur, and no longer need to publicly communicate authorisations to communities in advance.

Patel said: “The devastating impact of knife crime on families who have lost their loved one is unbearable. No one should have to endure the pain and suffering of the victims of these appalling crimes and we have a responsibility to them to do everything in our power to prevent future tragedies.”

She said the use of stop and search has increased by about 85% since 2019 and contributed to 50,000 weapons being taken off the streets.

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Patel added: “I stand wholeheartedly behind the police so that they can build on their work to drive down knife crime by making it easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives.”

Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism, told the Guardian that this “draconian action” would lead to “unnecessary conflict”. “The restrictions were put in because two police reports found there was indiscriminate use [of stop and search] against black communities. Our civil rights are being eroded and thrown in the bin by Priti Patel,” he said.

The move coincides with the launch of Operation Sceptre, a week of intensive action by every police force in England and Wales to tackle knife crime.

The government has also launched a consultation to make it easier for officers to search known knife carriers.

It comes after the introduction of serious violence reduction orders under the controversial police, crime, sentencing and courts act passed last month, which are intended to make such checks easier.

The Home Office rolled back restrictions on the section 60 tactics in 2019 as part of an attempt to tackle knife crime.

A report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) watchdog last month urged an overhaul of the use of stop-and-search powers to tackle the disproportionate impact the measures have on ethnic minority groups.

In the year to March 2021, black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, while Asian people were two-and-a-half times more likely.

The IOPC report cited allegations that one child was stopped 60 times. The Guardian reported that the male teenager was sometimes searched multiple times in the same day over two years, starting in 2018 when he was aged 14.



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