Why Boris Johnson’s knife crime plans will do more harm than good

The PM's move will increase the likelihood of racial profiling.

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson put forward several proposals aimed at reducing crime – specifically knife crime – in the UK.

Amongst his proposals, which included increasing police recruitment and prison spaces, was an extension to Section 60, the Stop-and-Search policy.

“We took about 11,000 knives off the streets of London with stop-and-search,” Johnson claimed in a live Facebook video last week, suggesting that this had contributed to violent crime in the capital being brought “way, way down”.

On Tuesday, Channel 4 FactChecked these claims, and found them to be inflated. According to evidence provided by the Met, while (almost) 11,000 were recovered while Stop-and-Search trials were in effect, only approximately 4,500 were actually procured through Stop-and-Search methods. The rest were recovered via other means. And this number, FactCheck suggests, is a generous estimate.

Stop-and-Search has long been mired in controversy, with many arguing that the practice encourages racial profiling and discrimination.

This is corroborated by crime data; in England and Wales, black individuals were nine and half times as likely to be Stopped-and-Searched between 2017 and 2018. This number has grown significantly since the previous year (when they were eight times as likely) and from 2014- 2015 (four times as likely).

Despite this disparity, the arrest rate for both black and white individuals has remained relatively similar every year – swaying by 8 per cent at the most.   

According to Johnson’s plans, two main changes will be made to the current Stop-and-Search procedure. The first will see more autonomy given to individual officers; inspectors will no longer need to be authorised to stop and search someone.

The second gives more flexibility to searchers. Currently, officers can only target an individual they believe “will cause harm” with a suspected concealed weapon. Under Johnson’s proposals however, people can be stopped and searched if an officer believes they “may cause harm”.

With added power and flexibility comes more room for human error and bias. Both these changes will place more onus on individual members of the police force, which is far more likely to result in decisions motivated by personal prejudices and opinion. The opportunity for racial profiling, and discriminatory practices would be broadened.

This scenario would ultimately lead to more distrust between the black community and the police, according to those within it, and human rights groups such as Liberty.

“Research has shown time and again that overuse of stop and search drives resentment and mistrust of police” the group suggested this Spring, “undermining the community relations that they depend on to do their jobs.”

Such distrust is likely to result in members of the black and minority-ethnic communities being less willing to report crimes that they have been the victim of or witness to.

In December, Liberty and a women’s rights group, Southall Black Sisters, uncovered evidence which tied the English and Welsh police forces to a secret data-sharing ring. This encouraged officers to report victims and witnesses of crime to immigration officials and resulted in the first ever super-complaint being lodged against the British police force.

This arrangement was just one of many practices, forming part of the hostile environment policy. This policy has leant on racial profiling methods since its implementation in 2012; encouraging landlords, NHS trusts, employers and the police to act as border control officers.

Although it was expunged last Summer, it has left its mark on the UK and its people. Levels of distrust mean BME communities typically stay silent for longer, or do not report crimes to the police at all.

Extending Stop-and-Search practices would make this issue even worse. In Johnson’s vision of a new crime-free UK, violent crime will not be reduced; it just won’t be reported. And Britain’s black community will be placed at an even higher risk of falling through the cracks of a criminal and judicial system which fails to support it. 

By Luna Williams, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, a team of immigration lawyers based in the UK.

Pic: CC via Flickr.

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2 Responses to “Why Boris Johnson’s knife crime plans will do more harm than good”

  1. Dave Roberts

    Most crimes of violence on the streets are committed by young men of African Caribbean heritage, whatever that is. It is entirely proporionate that they should be searched. End of story.

  2. Tom Sacold

    No excuses for knife crime, or any sort of crime.

    We need police on the streets using profiling techniques for stop and search.

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