Why are Black People Stopped and Searched more Often by the Police?

The latest figures on Police Stop and Search show that black people are now nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police.

This is a key statistics relevant to the A-level Sociology crime and deviance module. And I must say this is a thoroughly depressing trend, as the last time I updated this it was ‘6 times’ more likely, so the disproportion in stop and search has gotten worse!

The figures show that 6/1000 white people were stopped and searched by the police in the last year, compared to 54/1000 black people.

It is also interesting to note that ‘black other’ has a much higher rate than all other ‘black’ or any other sub category of ethnic group.

Asian people are now three times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.

Why are Black People Stopped by the Police more Often?

This increase in disproportion of stop and search has been investigated by the media recently.

Channel Four News recently put together an item in 2020 covering the topic:

They frame the issue of stop and search in the context of the ‘British Police’s Long History of Race Relations’, reminding us of the following key events:

  • 1981 – Brixton Riots – when young black people felt over policed and Under-protected.
  • 1985 – the death of Cynthia Jarret after police officers searched her home in North London.
  • The video points out that there were also disturbances over police racism in Birmingham in 1981 and 1985, so this wasn’t just a London issue.
  • The flawed police inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence by four white men is mentioned next, and the fact that the 1999 Mcpherson Inquiry found the MET to be institutionally racist.
  • In 2011 Mark Duggan was shot and killed in London while police tried to arrest him, sparking Riots in several cities across the UK.
  • Finally, during Lockdown, you’re twice as likely to be fined for breaking Lockdown in London if you’re black compared to if you’re white.

The police have responded to the accusations of racism by trying to do more outreach initiatives with communities and recruit more people from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, however, the police’s own figures still show that black people are ten times more likely than white people (I guess they rounded up!) to be stopped and searched by the police.

Black people are also more than twice as likely to die in custody than white people.

The video mainly focuses on an interview with Neil Basu – assistant commissioner for the MET, the highest ranking officer from a minority background.

He agrees there is racism in the police because Racism, but puts this down to the fact that Racism still exists more broadly in the United Kingdom.

And he says the MET are not institutionally racist in terms of policies but in terms of not having equal outcomes, then yes they are.

In short he says that the higher Stop and Search rates of black people is all about society, not the police.

The Police use force more often on Black People…

This recent report (2021) by the HMICFRS found that black people are five times more likely to have force used on them during Stop and Search – such as the police drawing or using Tazers or using handcuffs during the search.

The report also found that around 20% of stop and searches are initiated by officer intuition, so they are ‘spontaneous’, which isn’t in line with national guidelines, and they found that most forces don’t regularly review body cam evidence to check stop and search procedures.

In a way I guess this report backs up what Basu says about the police not being institutionally racist in terms of policies, the problem is that too many police are ignoring formal guidelines and using their (racist?) intuition to stop and search.

The Use of Stop and Search for Drug Possession is also part of the problem

Stops for drug possession account for nearly 60% of stop and search, and drug possession is a relatively minor offence (compared to stops for suspected theft or holding a weapon).

The report suggests that if the police spent less time focussing on this it might help reduce the disproportionality by ethnicity in the stop and search figures!

NB – this raises the question of whether Black People just happen to use and/ or deal drugs more than White people – but the stop and search figures alone can’t tell us this and there is something of a paucity of self-report study data on drug use by ethnicity. I may return to this question in a blog later this month!

Find out More…

For a more detailed look at statistics on ethnicity and crime, please see this post here.

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