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UK police's use of search powers against ethnic minorities disproportionate - watchdog

·2-min read
Protest outside the Shell building in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British police are still disproportionately using stop and search powers against Black and other ethnic minority groups, and cannot explain why, a report by the policing watchdog said on Friday.

Stop and search gives officers the power to frisk someone under specific circumstances, for example if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying drugs or a weapon.

Police say it is a vital tool in tackling crime and the British government is currently planning legislation to increase stop and search powers.

But campaigners argue that unnecessary use of stop and search exacerbates tensions, and it was a major issue behind the Black Lives Matter protests seen across Britain last summer.

The watchdog, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, said in its report that, unless forces could give a reason for the imbalance, they risked losing the trust of communities, adding that 35 years after the power was first introduced, no force fully understood its impact.

"The tragic killing of George Floyd in America in early 2020, and subsequent protests in the UK and globally, have highlighted once again the significant impact that police interaction can have," said HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams.

"We know that the proportion of stop and searches that actually find drugs is very low, and the disproportionate use of these powers on BAME people is having a damaging impact on public trust."

The report said that in 2019/20 people from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority (BAME) groups were over four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. That figure rose to nine times more likely for Black people.

Reponding to the report, Amanda Pearson from the National Police Chiefs' Council said they agreed that more needed to be done to address concerns about disproportionality.

"We are currently developing plans that will enable us to do that, and do it as quickly as possible," she said in a statement.

Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel has said that stop and search works and that it is an essential tool in addressing a rise in knife crime, especially among young people.

"A minority will say these measures are disproportionate and will affect minority communities or claim that this is racism. That is simply not true," she told the Mail on Sunday newspaper last month.

"People will say these measures are controversial. But to me, when people are dying, that doesn't matter."

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Gareth Jones)