It is apparent that the relationship between the police and BAME communities is vastly damaged and this is due to the ill-judged use of policing powers. Police powers remain among the most controversial components of British police force to stop and search individuals in public. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act was first introduced in 1984 as a reform against the perception that the public had lost equity in the English justice system. What was meant to be a legislation to unify police powers and enforce balanced rights of the public has developed into a voluntary power-using system. Police stop and search powers were first introduced in the 1830’s but were not used efficiently until 1984 which came under Section (1) of the Police and Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. The increase use of police stops, and searches was firstly used as an aid to the ‘Swamp 81’ operation which was organised in response to increased reported street robbery at the time.
The use of these powers was disproportionately used on young black men which ultimately contributed to outrage leading to the beginning of the Brixton riots that took place in 1981. Later that year Lord Scarman released his report identifying the Brixton riots as an outburst of frustration and resentment against the police in a sense of social and economic injustice. The Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Code of Practice specifies that the primary objective of the power is ‘‘to enable officers to allay or confirm suspicions about individuals without exercising their power of arrest.” The most commonly used powers under Section (1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are Section 23 of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, section 47 of the 1968 Firearms Act, and section 44(1) and (2) of the 2000 Terrorism Act. These powers require that the officer be given reasonable grounds for suspicion. The power is indeed an investigative power and should only be used for the identification and prevention of crime however, it is evident that the practice is often misused on individuals who are suspiciously “known” to the police. This is highly significant as this reinforces pervasive stereotypes and racial discrimination.
The core duty of the police is to protect and serve the public by combating crime. The use of police powers must be compatible with legislations on human rights and equality. However, it has become apparent that this often overlooked with certain individuals of the public such as BAME groups. The Metropolitan Police Service had recorded 43,644 searches in May 2020 alone which was 50% more than the previous year, a Scotland Yard official had argued that the increase of searches supported frontline officers tackling violent crime however, it was found that 66.9% of searches conducted were for drugs. This is very important as this addresses the use of police powers that continue to disproportionately affect BAME groups that systematically positions them into the criminal justice system.
The 2018 Youth Violence Commission reported: ‘There is a damaging lack of trust between the police and some communities. This has become a serious barrier to change, including via a “wall of silence” when crimes are committed, and communities do not share information with the police.’ It is arguable that the over-policing of BAME groups is essentially the root of the violence to follow, the heavy handed tactics used to ‘sanction’ BAME groups inevitably make them see the police as lacking in authority and therefore are more likely to participate in self-defence which is often seen as ‘resisting.’ Moreover, the Metropolitan Police recorded a stagering 98,280 stop and searches over the three-month lockdown period of which 79% resulted in ‘no further action’ and only 10% led to an arrest. This included searches mainly focused on BAME communities who were 4 times more likely to be stopped. This is extremely concerning as the excessive use of powers is evidently resulting in unsuccessful outcomes but continues to threaten overall police effectiveness.
Furthermore, there is no doubt that the policing system needs change and that it needs to be a major cultural shift. There have been several debates brought to the government’s awareness and although, there has been a willingness to recognise such concerns, there has not been enough reform action. Interviews conducted by the Criminal Justice Alliance group pointed out that young BAME groups felt “violated” and “assaulted” during their experiences of stops and searches, also describing the police as “jump out gangs.” Many stated that poor communication and taunting attitudes from the police made them feel belittled, confused and upset which ultimately led to distrust in the service.
The government introduced the Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme in 2014 to encourage police forces to carry out productive stops and searches for example, collecting more detailed information of searches to establish whether the initial reason for the stop and search has been accurately conducted. The scheme laid out five performance measures – recording outcomes, lay observation, community complaint triggers, reducing the number of Section 60 stops and monitoring the impact of stops. According to HMIC’S annual report on police legitimacy, it was discovered that only 11 out of 43 police forces were complying with all five measures of the BUSS scheme. However, by 2016 the overall number of stops and searches used was 380,000 times in the year which was steady decrease compared to previous years, with over 1.2 million stops and searches in figures.
In conclusion, it is evident that there is a systematic void that needs to be reformed. Without such improvements the increase of police brutality will continue as well as the increase of crime within the BAME community.