How this series of measures threatens to compound discrimination, divide communities, and neglect the deep-rooted issues that permeate the criminal justice system.
At the end of July, the government unveiled its latest crime reduction strategy to make the streets safer and protect victims, and it has been widely disputed ever since. The Beating Crime Plan promises to “level up” parts of the country that are plagued with high crime levels by ensuring that everyone has the “security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home”. Instead, it delivers a series of measures that threaten to compound discrimination, divide communities, and neglect the deep-rooted issues that permeate the criminal justice system.
Among the proposals include trialling the use of alcohol tags — which detect alcohol in the sweat of offenders of drink-fuelled crime — on prison leavers in Wales, making unpaid work more visible by getting offenders to clean up streets and public spaces, and extending the use of electronic monitoring for burglars and thieves for 24 hours a day upon release from prison. Perhaps the most controversial measure is the permanent relaxation of the conditions of the use of Section 60 stop and search powers — which allow a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion.
Expanding such police powers remains at the forefront of political debate, where its effectiveness as a strategy to tackle knife crime has been denounced time and time again. The powers were restricted in 2014 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, meaning that they could only be used if police believed there was an imminent threat of violence, during a limited number of hours. “If you look at the evidence – it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime,” May claimed in 2015. In 2019, the restrictions were eased by Priti Patel, empowering police to carry out searches 24 hours a day and on account of possible violence. And now, these powers will be fortified further.
It is undeniable that stop and search powers are disproportionately used, discriminatory, and racially charged. Young Black males were nineteen times more likely to be stopped and searched in London in 2020, as revealed in a study of official data by UCL’s Institute for Global City Policing. At a broader level, Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped than White people in England and Wales — just one statistic that elucidates the lived experiences of structural racism within the criminal justice system.
Yet most police forces cannot explain or justify why there is disproportionality in the way in which these oppressive powers are utilised. Undeniably, the common abuse of such powers by the police has impacted the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. It is unsurprising that those who experience such injustice should develop a level of hostility and distrust towards the police — a prevailing issue that has been highlighted by both the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and Scarman report into policing incidents.
The expansion of discriminatory stop and search powers ultimately serves to negate the lived experiences of many at the hands of the police and reinforce such injustice. In the context of the recent UK report that denied the evidence of institutional racism, these proposed policing measures further reflect the government’s negligence and blasé attitudes towards addressing the structural racism prevalent in the criminal justice system. It is undeniable that knife crime is endemic on our streets. However, to truly tackle the epidemic of knife crime that is destroying so many lives, we must tackle the root causes of the problem. Alienating communities by extending Section 60 stop and search powers is not the solution.
We at JAN Trust have long advocated for a joined-up approach to enable society to address the root cause of the violence, as discussed in a previous article for inews, including a focus on education about knife crime in schools, reducing school exclusions, and the involvement of the communities that it impacts. Our CEO Sajda Mughal stated:
“To begin to tackle the issue of knife crime we must start to view its causes as multifaceted, meaning as a result, that there is not a singular solution and as is often the case in such circumstances, there exists a desperate need for holistic approach to this challenge.”
Our work through the Web Guardians™ programme empowers women and mothers to help protect their children both online and offline, encouraging them to maintain an open dialogue with their children about the dangers that exist to young people today. Our Against Knife Crime programme is run with BAME women and mothers to raise awareness of the dangers young people in Haringey and surrounding boroughs face in relation to gangs and gang violence.
JAN Trust continues to provide sensitive and confidential advice for women and mothers who are worried about their children being affected by gang related violence. This work is vital in protecting our future generations.