‘It breaks down trust’: What a year’s worth of stop and search looks like in Newham

Police officers on patrol at Stratford station. Picture: Stephen Pond/PA Archive

Police officers on patrol at Stratford station. Picture: Stephen Pond/PA Archive - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The number of people who were subjected to on-the-spot searches by police in Newham skyrocketed last year.

Metropolitan Police officers used powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1989 to search people 17,267 times in 2019.

This was almost double the 9,000 incidents recorded in 2018 and makes Newham the second most-searched borough in London.

Stop and search uses across the capital have increased for the first time in 10 years - in response, police said, to an increase in violent crime.

A Met spokeswoman said: "Tackling violence is the number one priority for the Metropolitan Police Service. One homicide, one stabbing, one violent incident is one too many.

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wi

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

"The rise in stop and search is a response to the increase in levels of violence and is part of our ongoing efforts to prevent crime, reduce injuries and save lives."

Last year 25 per cent of searches in Newham led to some form of action being taken. The majority - 11,163 - were for drugs, but in 3,800 cases police were looking for blades, guns and other weapons.

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Officers also stopped 949 people suspected of carrying stolen goods and 431 they thought were "going equipped": carrying tools for criminal purposes.

Ninety-one per cent of people searched were male. A total of 6,044 of those searched were described by officers as black, 5,386 as white, 5,304 as Asian and 280 as 'Other'.

But fewer black people were found to be carrying anything incriminating: 1,329 in total, compared to 1,353 white people.

Newham's Independent Advisory Group regularly gives police guidance on policing issues affecting ethnic minorities and vulnerable people in the borough.

Chairman Paul Leslie, who also chairs Newham's Stop and Search Monitoring Group, said: "We have long questioned the validity of stop and search as a tool, simply because you would expect to see a correlation between an increase in stop and search and a reduction in crime.

"We are not seeing that. What we are seeing are continued levels of disproportionality."

London-wide figures show black people are still more likely to be searched, although the rate of "positive outcomes" - incidents where something is found - is higher for white people.

Mr Leslie added: "Certain communities should not be over-targeted and there needs to be a raft of other measures used to address crime: more low-level intervention, more community engagement and more intelligence-led policing. If you know where the criminals are, pitch up and deal with them there."

Across London stop and search uses have increased from 151,000 in 2018 to 268,000 in 2019 after a decade of steady decline.

But it has also become less effective. In 2019, 76 per cent of searches resulted in no further action, compared to 71 per cent in 2018.

Katrina Ffrench, CEO of UK-wide charity StopWatch, said the organisation was "concerned" about the numbers.

She said: "The line has been that police want to tackle knife crime, even though in reality it is mostly used for low-level drugs offences.

"Police are adamant that stop and search saves lives, but we have argued that actually when over-used, it breaks down trust and confidence in communities."

"They want to be seen to be doing something but the power is used disproportionately for a small reward."

Last year local schools, researchers and the East London Citizens Organisation launched a pilot project with Newham police to improve accountability in stop and search.

A monitoring board was set up for young people to report abuses, and 10,000 paper tickets were ordered, to be given as "receipts" to people searched.

In Newham stop and search led to 2,004 people being arrested in 2019. Where incriminating items were found, in 64 per cent of cases it was drugs.

But 267 people were also caught with knives or bladed weapons, and on 21 occasions the person searched was carrying a gun.

Another 378 were suspected of possible theft or fraud based on what police found, and 42 for possible immigration offences.

Police also issued 823 people with penalty notices and sent 145 people a charge requisition or court summons by post.