Assurances sought in Suffolk over relaxation of blanket stop-and-search powers

Police said the increase in use of stop-and-search reflected the force’s proactive approach to ident

The government's Beating Crime Plan proposes the permanent relaxation of section 60 conditions  - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised in Suffolk over plans to relax the rules around blanket use of stop-and-search powers.

This week, the government's Beating Crime Plan proposed the permanent relaxation of conditions on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which allows police to search anyone in a specified area and time period, without reasonable grounds, to prevent serious violence or disorder.

It follows a year-long pilot, launched in 2019, which reduced the necessary level of authorisation and lowered the required degree of certainty to a reasonable belief that an incident involving serious violence ‘may’, rather than ‘will’ occur.

Prime minister Boris Johnson defended the wider use of powers as a “kind and loving” way to get dangerous weapons off the streets.

On Wednesday, the matter was discussed by the Stop and Search Reference Group, a community scrutiny panel run by the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE).

ISCRE director Phanuel Mutumburi asked the constabulary for reassurance, telling the meeting: "There has been some feedback from communities where people are concerned about use of section 60.

"While it's rarely used in Suffolk – and when it is, we are contacted in advance by the police – it suspends all issues around reasonable suspicion and the checks and balances around stop-and-search.

Phanuel Mutumburi, business and operations director at Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equali

Phanuel Mutumburi, business and operations director at Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE)  - Credit: Rachel Edge

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"It's something that is worrying for communities – particularly those impacted negatively by wrongful use of stop-and-search."

Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore said section 60 had been used sensibly and following good communication in the past, adding: "I don't see any big change in Suffolk for as long as we continue building community relationships."

Temporary Superintendent Simon Mills said it was right for police to give intelligence-led consideration to using section 60. 

The last authorisation was given in the aftermath of a large disturbance in Norwich Road in November 2019.

Most searches are carried out under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

In the year ending October 2020, Suffolk police carried out 4,981 stop-searches, compared to 2,455 in the previous 12 months and 1,734 in 2017/18.

About 70% were carried out in search of drugs ­– with 13% resulting in arrest and 61% resulting in nothing being found.

People of black, Asian or minority ethnic background were about 3.3 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people on average.