(This is the first of a two-part article examining stop and search policy)
In addition to the atrocious terror attacks of recent weeks, followed by the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, another less noticeable tragedy has been taking its toll. Knife crime. So far this year over 30 people have been stabbed to death on the streets of London.
In response, yet another campaign to tackle the capital’s knife problem was launched in May. The police were sincere and talked about role models, community leaders, statistics and clear messages. But the trouble is it won’t work.
Scotland’s ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign of 2009 took a similar approach. But all the evidence suggests that Scotland’s dramatic falls in violent crime to 40-year lows have little to do with this but are more likely due to jaw-dropping levels of stop and search. In 2005, Glasgow was the murder capital of Europe with high levels of knife crime. The city responded by increasing its stop and search rate, specifically by targeting groups in proportion to the crime they commit.
By 2014 the stop rate for Scotland was 131 per 1,000 people, and there were 191 stops per 1,000 in Greater Glasgow. That was nearly 1 stop per 5 people. Young white men, who were statistically the highest crime group, were massively over represented.
The outcome? Well, 2015 saw a fall in crime with offensive weapons in Glasgow of 14 per cent, marking a 29-year low. It should also be noted that Scottish police numbers have risen for 30 years and remain at peak levels above 17,000.
Compared with Scotland’s stop and search rate of 131 per 1000, the stop and search rate in England and Wales in 2014 was just 18 per 1,000 people. That was when Theresa May, then Home Secretary, decided to reduce this rate further. It fell by 40 per cent in 2015 and by 28 per cent in 2016. Critically, she also cut police numbers from highs of around 143,000 in 2010, to 124,000 in 2016 leaving England with 30 per cent fewer police per capita than Scotland.
At the same time ‘stop rules’ were going through much needed reform to address discrimination against minority groups and to promote accountability, as a result of which an officer now has to provide an ‘objective basis for suspicion’ based on ‘facts, information and/or intelligence’ to stop a suspect.
But there is no reason why the need to reform the process should have led to a reduction in the use of this vital police power. Stop and search, sustained alongside high police numbers and long prison sentences for violent repeat offenders, is proven to cut crime. When the opposite happens – minimal stop and search, less policing – crime rises. It is hardly rocket science.
So it is hardly surprising that 2015 saw violent crime in England and Wales leap up by 27 per cent, knife crime by 9 per cent and gun crime by 4 per cent. Nor that this rise has continued into 2016 with knife crime up 11 per cent, gun crime 7 per cent and a 35 per cent rise in ‘threats to kill’ with a knife. In London alone, last year gun crime was up 42 per cent and knife crime by 24 per cent.
Some communities suffer more than others and the sad photos of London’s teen victims show that ‘black on black’ crime is still disproportionately high. The question that government can no longer ignore is whether cutting back on stop and search has left black youth more vulnerable. I address this tomorrow.
(Image: Joe Bailes)