UK home secretary announces reducing stop-and-search paperwork

The Guardian reports that the home secretary, Theresa May, has announced a “radical new deal” to reduce “time-wasting bureaucracy” and “give licence” to the police.

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While billed as revolutionary bureaucracy-busting, this proposal will actually unravel protections against the unfair and unlawful use of police powers to stop and search, undermining accountability to the law and local communities.

In her speech last week to the Police Federation conference, the home secretary announced plans to “scrap the ‘stop’ form in its entirety and reduce the burden of the ‘stop-and-search’ procedures”. She did not, in fact, promise to do away with all stop-and-search forms: stops that result in actual searches would still be recorded – although apparently in far less detail. However, stops that do not lead to a search will go under the radar.

May appears to be attempting to signal a clear break with the previous government, and seizing stop and search as an incentive for police to accept the unpopular proposal to introduce elected commissioners. In doing so, her proposal ignores a decade of lessons learned and work done to reform the use of police powers.

Eliminating data on stops that do not lead to searches, and reducing the data that is captured on stop-and-search practices, will make it impossible to monitor the efficiency and fairness of stops overall. This, in the face of an ongoing reality of unfair and ineffective use of police stop-and-search powers.

Instead of ensuring that police practices are improved based on sound evidence, May’s proposal will suppress information and ignore bias. Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a review showing that most police forces in England and Wales still unfairly target black and Asian people. Nationally, black people were six times more likely, and Asian people around twice as likely, to be stopped and searched than white people. Just as important, they found that stop and search is not an effective way of cutting crime. (…)

Accountability and monitoring are crucial, not just by the police themselves, but by police authorities and local communities. If this proposal goes ahead to scrap the requirement on police to record stops, it will severely limit the ability of police supervisors and external monitoring groups to ensure that stop and search is used fairly, effectively, and lawfully.(…)

Effective policing is based on real accountability, legitimacy and consent. Data and research clearly show that police stop-and-search practices are still not as fair or effective as they should be, and must be improved to rebuild trust and confidence in all communities. Rather than learning from the innovative work already underway, the home secretary is proposing to turn back the clock to an age of denial and resentment.

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