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Use of stop-and-search powers by police rises by a quarter across Suffolk

Student police officers learning how to carry out stop and search Picture: IAN BURT

Student police officers learning how to carry out stop and search Picture: IAN BURT

Archant 2018

Suffolk has seen the first rise in people being stopped and searched by police since the introduction of stricter guidance in 2014 - with use of the controversial power increasing 60% in Ipswich.

The number of stops went up 21.5% across the county, from 1,622 to 1,971, between the year ending March 2018 and the year ending March 2019.

It comes as the Home Office prepares to bolster stop-and-search powers in a bid to crack down on rising knife crime across the country.

Use of the power across Suffolk had fallen for consecutive years since the introduction of the Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme in April 2014, when the government set out new guidance to achieve greater transparency, community involvement and a more intelligence-led approach.

Numbers remain significantly lower than at their height in 2013/14 (down 67% from 5,884 across Suffolk and down 38% from 1,186 in Ipswich).

Superintendent Kim Warner said he saw room for increased use of stop-and-search, but not at the expense of improving success rates  Picture: GREGG BROWNSuperintendent Kim Warner said he saw room for increased use of stop-and-search, but not at the expense of improving success rates Picture: GREGG BROWN

The latest period included 25 stops during two days of last June, when police were given authority to stop and search anyone in a designated area, without reasonable grounds for suspicion, under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

It followed the murder of Ipswich teenager Tavis Spencer-Aitkens, whose mother welcomed former Home Secretary Sajid Javid's pilot scheme to make it easier for seven police forces to use Section 60 powers earlier this year.

Another 107 stops were mainly carried out in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich as part of Operation Velocity, which focussed on drug use and supply.

Superintendent Kim Warner said it was too early for recent government proposal to have influenced numbers, but that training completed last October had enhanced understanding of how to use the powers in a more targeted manner.

Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, gave police forces in areas most affected by serious violence greater powers to use Section 60 earlier this year  Picture: GREGG BROWNSajid Javid, then Home Secretary, gave police forces in areas most affected by serious violence greater powers to use Section 60 earlier this year Picture: GREGG BROWN

In the last year, 800 Suffolk police staff underwent refreshed training to examine the parameters of reasonable grounds for stop and search.

"At the same time, there has been an uplift in activity around county lines drug supply, and in 'homegrown' gangs originating in Suffolk, resulting in really targeted intelligence based work," he added.

"This is reflected in the majority of searches being related to drugs.

"I'd expect to see an increase in stop-search in relation to knife crime because it's often linked to county lines drug dealing."

Tavis Spencer Aitken Picture: COURTESY OF FAMILYTavis Spencer Aitken Picture: COURTESY OF FAMILY

Two thirds of all stops were associated with drugs, while almost as many (59%) resulted in no further action being taken - an annual 2% increase, but down from 71% at the end of 2013/2014.

Supt Warner said the constabulary was trying to create capacity to free up staff from more bureaucratic and administrative duties to do more proactive policing.

"I would expect, under the chief constable's leadership, to see more traditional, visible policing," he added.

External scrutiny of how Suffolk officers use the power is provided by the Stop and Search Reference Group, which examines and discusses random dip sampling, and more recently, body-worn video footage.

Student police officers taking part in a drugs stop and search training exercise Picture: IAN BURTStudent police officers taking part in a drugs stop and search training exercise Picture: IAN BURT

Last year, about 16% of people stopped and searched in Suffolk were from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.

In Ipswich, the rate was closer to 25%.

Of all people stopped and searched last year, 1,461 were Suffolk residents and 243 were from outside Suffolk - with addresses not stated for the remaining 267.

Supt Warner said: "I think there is room for increased use of stop-and-search, but what I don't want to see is a vast reduction in success rate.

Police officers taking part in a stop-and-search training exercise  Picture: IAN BURTPolice officers taking part in a stop-and-search training exercise Picture: IAN BURT

"That success rate was sitting at about 4-5% when we were using stop-and-search a lot. Our success rate is now higher than ever - and it's increasing.

"The difference in outcomes between those from white or BAME backgrounds is negligible - and if you exclude those raised outside the county, the disproportion rate comes down.

"That's not to say we're complacent about proportionality.

"We're as good as any force for internal and external scrutiny.

"Part of the training we delivered was about unconscious bias.

"I'm really pleased that BUSS came in. It's really important we use it in a way that's least damaging to our relationship with the community; that it's used effectively, in areas where intelligence tells us crime is being committed."

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