Police unable to explain disproportionate use of powers against minorities, report finds

Police are still unable to explain why their powers are disproportionately used on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, a watchdog has said.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) warned that police risk losing the trust of the communities they serve after the latest inspection on the disproportionate use of powers.

In the report, published on Friday, the inspectorate said: “Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.

“Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.”

The report cited data from 2019/20 that showed ethnic minority people were four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

Black people were about 5.7 times more likely to have force used on them than white people, with figures also showing they were more than nine times as likely to have Tasers drawn on them.

The report reveals black people were eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, for reasons the inspectorate said are “unclear”.

HMICFRS said the use of these powers was “unfair” and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupting their lives, education and work opportunities.

Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said: “It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources.”

Inspectors found the most common reason given for the use of stop and search was suspected drug possession “rather than supply”, which it said indicated that “efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities”.

Ms Williams added: “Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.

“It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.

“The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.”

The report said that, while improvements had been made, too many police forces still did not analyse and monitor enough information and data “to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used”.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct director general Michael Lockwood said: “Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality – and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected – can we start to make the changes that are needed.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it is developing plans to address the disproportionality in the use of stop and search and to “explain it and take action to reduce it wherever possible”.

NPCC’s lead for stop and search, deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson, said the police body will “consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime”.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said stop and search saved lives after it helped remove 11,000 dangerous weapons from UK streets last year, adding that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime.

He added: “We are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance, and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively, and that nobody is stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour.”

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