If we want to cut violent crime, we need to cut stop and search

Yesterday Suella Bravermen wrote to police forces across England and Wales to encourage them to use stop and search powers more. She says that this will help tackle violent crime.

In fact, it will waste police time on trivialities instead of catching dangerous criminals.

Stop and search isn’t well focussed on finding criminals. Only just over one in ten stops leads to an arrest[1]. In fact a 2019 study found that ‘Overall, our analysis of ten years’ worth of London-wide data suggests that although stop and search had a weak association with some forms of crime, this effect was at the outer margins of statistical and social significance.’ In fact, Braverman’s policy of increasing stop and search had no effect on violent crime trends.

It’s also well known that stop and search is disproportionately targeted at ethnic minorities, especially black people. The Home Office’s own statistics show that a black resident of an area is almost 4 times as likely to be stopped[2] and searched as their white neighbour.

It’s well known that stop and search damages many people’s perception of the police – and makes them less likely to share intelligence with their local officers. Academic research[3] shows, unsurprisingly, that people who are stopped, feel more negatively about the police.

Despite this, the police still do startlingly little to improve people’s experience of stop and search, so Braverman’s policy risks just damaging the police’s ability to get the community on their side.

But there’s another reason to be suspicious of promoting stop and search without good intelligence. And that’s the appalling failure of the police to tackle violent crimes.

The recent Casey Report into the Metropolitan police, quotes an officer saying that ‘If you look at our performance around rape, serious sexual offences, the detection rate is so low you may as well say it’s legal in London.’

This isn’t just one officer’s view. Just one in a hundred reported rapes ends with a conviction. This is a terrible failure of justice. It is also a failure to prevent crime when up to 40% of rapes are by repeat offenders. Properly investigating and prosecuting sexual offences can potentially dramatically cut these crimes.

A lack of police resources for rape and other serious sexual offences is a large part of the problem. Casey notes that a police officer should have no more than 13 rape cases to investigate. They currently have 18.

If we want to free up more resources, we need to look at poor uses of police time. And stop and search is high up that list.

Around 60% of stop and searches are for drugs. Even when these are successful, they are mainly pointless, finding small quantities of cannabis and other soft drugs. Each of these arrests takes 10 hours of police time, as well as further wasted time in the courts. All of which could be used to tackle serious crime.

Suella Braverman needs to make a choice. Does she want to pretend she’s tackling crime? Or would she rather throw red meat to the Tory grassroots, even though it will worsen the problem?

* Rob Blackie is a candidate for the 2024 London Assembly elections. A former aid worker, he advises charities and corporates on strategy.

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14 Comments

  • Rob’s interesting article covers a lot of ground. On stop and search I would say prevention is better than this kind of ‘cure’. Poverty and other contributions to social deprivation are the root cause of the inner-city gang culture which has made the carrying of knives so prevalent. However the Police have been left to clear up the mess, and I don’t consider stop and search a trivial waste of time.
    We also have to remember that the entire criminal justice system is barely functioning; the understaffed CPS rejects any case not highly likely to lead to conviction, and those that do go forward can be on hold for two years due to the backlog in the courts. That may be due to poorly paid and overworked barristers. Blaming the Police has been (unusually for the Conservatives) embraced by the government.
    Rape is a uniquely horrible crime, but successful prosecution must be difficult where the only witnesses are the perpetrator and the victim. Simply blaming the Police for anticipating rejection by the CPS is probably unfair.

  • Ruth Bright 20th Jun '23 - 1:28pm

    Resources are only part of the picture with the decriminalisation of rape. Attitudes towards women are the major problem. An academic study of the way women who alleged rape were questioned showed they were sometimes asked the type of questions asked of infants like: “Do you understand the difference between right and wrong”.

  • Martin Gray 20th Jun '23 - 3:22pm

    With the knife statistics in London as bad as they are – it’s only right the police utilise the powers that are there the best they can to counteract that ..
    ‘Poverty and other contributions to social deprivation are the root cause of the inner-city gang culture which has made the carrying of knives so prevalent’
    No amount of excuses can ever be made for those that maim and murder using such a weapon.
    Ultimately voters want violent offenders locked up & locked up for longer …

  • @Martin Gray, luckily, in the Liberal Democrat party we’re not slaves to what voters think they want. Poverty is definitely one of the main causes of violent crime, but it’s not an excuse for it, and simply locking people up isn’t the answer.
    I agree that in the absence of a programme of social measures designed to make children living in deprived areas feel more included, police action to reduce the numbers carrying a knife is a useful last resort.

  • Michael Bukola 20th Jun '23 - 8:50pm

    Suella Braverman advocating the continued and widespread use of the historically failed tool of “stop and search”, which allows the police to act without the need for “reasonable grounds” as in Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Claims by the police and other government agencies that stop and search is saving the lives of our young people are false. These blanket swoops into communities and neighbourhoods without intelligence or justification, as in the case of the draconian use of Section 60, is a clear abuse and an infringement of our civil liberties. It is a costly exercise in public relations that cannot be sustained. No community is going to idly sit by and accept the long-term and extensive use of stop and search; it is a dangerous proposition, and Braverman needs to take heed. Seemingly, it appears the Casey Review taught us nothing.

  • Michael Bukola 20th Jun '23 - 8:55pm

    As a liberal, I consider the procedure known as stop and search to be illiberal. Further, I refuse to be subjected to what I believe to be one of the last remaining oppressive regimes within modern-day society.

    Stop and search has been shown time and time again to be a traumatic experience to its survivors, who are disproportionately, black young men. Many young people has found the experience to be one of victimisation and harassment and as a consequence, life-changing.

    It is well known that the capacity to use legitimate, state-sanctioned force, such as stop and search, is the defining feature of the police organisation. However, the guiding principle is that use of force by police must be essential (used as a tactic of last resort) and minimal (must be no more than is needed). It must be seen as legitimate (justifiable to the public and with its consent) and the police must be able to account for their actions.

  • Jason Connor 20th Jun '23 - 9:53pm

    There is nothing illiberal about using tools to save lives and the majority of knife crime victims in London are black males. S and S is not used as a sole or defining feature of the police service but does reduce knife crime where used appropriately along with intelligence led policing.

    Some of the services were cut back under the coalition then reinforced by majority conservative government like safer neighbourhood teams, and particularly the Connexions service which engaged with young people at risk of serious crime quite effectively. All these measures need to be re-introduced. The police can only do their best when the CPS fail to prosecute or sentences for knife crime are inadequate.

  • Thelma Davies 21st Jun '23 - 10:30am

    During the coalition 400+ surestart centres were closed as funding was withdrawn. We have to recognise that, and admit that it was a mistake.
    Ultimately poverty can never be an excuse . My parents grew up in awful poverty but would never contemplate resorting to violence.

  • Jason Connor 21st Jun '23 - 3:33pm

    I agree with you 100% Thelma and my council tenant neighbours would think the same on both your points.

  • Reading the comments on this article which challenge what Rob is saying I can’t help noticing no actual statistical evidence is provided – in complete contrast to the specific evidence highlighted in the article. The reality is that no one is saying stop and search does not have a role , but crudely carrying it out, and carrying it out in a blanket manner irrespective of intelligence and at a level simply dictated by a Home Secretary chasing some tabloids, can actually be counter productive in making our communities safe. When trust between the police and a community ends so too does public safety. Some wise words are expressed in this article: https://southwarknews.co.uk/featured/stop-and-search-works-but-only-when-its-done-with-respect-says-lambeth-superintendent/

  • It is interesting, but also disappointing, how statistics are being used here. For example Rob says “*Only* just over one in ten stops leads to an arrest.” and then refers to some unspecified study with the implication that it is barely worth doing.

    However for comparison, recent data indicates that only just over 5% of reported crimes are being solved in the UK and in several areas it is below 3%. So on those figures it seems clear that the current stop and search strategy is a successful approach to solving crimes, specifically the offence of carrying a knife or an offensive weapon in a public place. Also more importantly it will have a knock on effect of reducing the likelihood of a violent act being carried out.

  • David,

    I think this is the research that the article is referring to in paragraph three:

    https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article/58/5/1212/4827589

  • David Evans 26th Jun '23 - 9:52am

    Simon,

    You may well be right. It certainly looks like it.

    However, it does nothing to undermine my fundamental point – that the current stop and search strategy is a successful approach to solving crimes by comparison to almost any other strategy adopted. Indeed it is apparently much more successful than almost any other intervention the police do. On that basis, similar research would presumably conclude that investigating reported crimes “had a weak association with some forms of crime, this effect was at the outer margins of statistical and social significance.”

    I hope none of us would use that as a pretext to propose the police cut investigating crime.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jun '23 - 4:32pm

    stop and search without an adequate reason is an infringement of our rights. It should be accompanied by a right of appeal following the event. It might be relatively effective but at what cost? It’s demeaning and likely to provoke resentment in the vulnerable individuals at whom it is targetted. And what do you do about the low level activities discovered? Its best use is as a deterrent and it is that however many are performed.

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