Vikram Dodd, Guardian, October 22, 2015
Theresa May will publicly criticise claims made by Britain’s most senior police officer that a rise in knife crime is linked to falls in stop and search, branding them as a “kneejerk reaction” and “false”.
In a combative speech on Thursday May will also criticise the race record of the police in England and Wales, saying they are too white, with not one of the 43 forces looking like the communities they serve.
Her remarks on stop and search are a direct challenge to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Metropolitan police. He said a rise in knife crime in London can be connected to large reductions in stops and searches from his officers.
Addressing the conference of the National Black Police Association, the home secretary will say: “Properly targeted, stop and search will actually help reduce knife crime. It will save police time to focus on prevention and work with gangs, and it will improve the relationship between the police and the public on which all of your work rests.
“We must not jettison all that good work for the sake of a kneejerk reaction on the back of a false link.”
In June, Hogan-Howe told the BBC: “Over the last three months there has been a rise in stabbings and that has caused us to review our position on stop and search . . . If we are getting to the stage where people think they can carry knives with impunity, that can’t be good for anyone.”
Last week the police chief followed that up by saying rising recorded knife crime had led the Met to increase the use of stop and search in 18 out of London’s 32 boroughs and also start the use of powers allowing stops without reasonable suspicion. The volume of stops had been reducing since 2011.
The issue is wrapped up in race, with ethnic minorities more likely to be stopped than whites and very few leading to detection of a crime–meaning tens of thousands of innocent people every year, especially ethnic minorities, were being targeted. An official report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found in 2013 that one in four of stops may be unlawful.
The home secretary believes the disproportionate use of the power against ethnic minorities can poison community relations. Police chiefs in London say stop and search is one of several factors behind the rise in knife crime. Police chiefs in other urban areas say they do not see such a link.
In advance passages of her speech released by aides, the home secretary will say: “I know there are those who say that our reforms have gone too far, that the pendulum has swung too much the other way, and that reforms to stop and search are linked to knife crime in our capital and elsewhere. But to them I say this: stop and search reform has worked, it must continue, and–if you look at the evidence–it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime.”
She will add: “When stop and search is misapplied, and when people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is unfair, it wastes valuable police time, and it damages the relationship between communities and the police.”
Relations are already strained between the home secretary and the commissioner. Last week, after months of contemplation, Hogan-Howe attacked government cuts to police funding, warning they risked endangering the public and damaging counter-terrorism efforts, the most politically sensitive claims he could make. Next week they are due to be sat at the same table at a police bravery ceremony.
Hogan-Howe is appointed by the home secretary, who must also take account of the views of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Either politician declaring they have lost confidence in the police chief could be fatal. The commissioner’s five year term expires next year and London government wants to grant him a two-year extension.
The Met was unable to comment because it was unaware of the speech.
May’s speech will also say that four forces have no black officers and 11 have no ethnic minorities above the rank of chief inspector. Despite forces agreeing in 1999 after the Macpherson report to look like the communities they serve, May will say not one force has the same proportion of ethnic minority officers in their ranks as the area they police. The four forces referred to by May are Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Dyfed-Powys and Durham.
In London, one in ten officers is from an ethnic minority, in a city where 40% of the population are. Some senior officers have privately wondered about a gap in “legitimacy” as a result.
May will say: “Incredibly, four forces do not employ any black or black British police officers at all, and female officers make up 28% of all police officers but 51% of the total population.
“This comes on top of existing statistics showing that there are only two BME chief officers in England and Wales, and eleven forces have no BME officers above chief inspector rank. This is simply not good enough.”
May was criticised for her Tory party conference speech on immigration which even those on the right felt went too far.
Research commissioned by the Guardian found ethnic minority Britons were subjected to nearly one-and-a-half million more stop and searches than if the police had treated them the same as white people, between 1999 and 2009. The rate of stop and search against black people during that period also doubled.
Hogan-Howe has asked to allow positive discrimination in appointment, where one minority ethnic officer would be recruited for every new white officer. But this would require a change in the law, and the plan was received coolly by the Home Office.