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335 – Stop, search, listen
04 October 2009 (18:38:46)

Duwayne Brooks favours stop and search powers, but asks why policing still targets black people

There is this notion that black people want the police to apologise for their use of Stop and Search because of its continued negative impact on our teenagers. This is so not true. Organisations that lobby on behalf of black victims of police brutality are not asking for an apology for the use of Stop and Search; the complaint has always been the manner under which this discriminatory power is used.

We are told constantly that the Metropolitan Police want to work with all communities to combat crime, yet they fail to listen to the most basic of suggestions. For the last 30 years, the Met has apparently been listening to us and doing its best to work with us, yet the situation on the ground hasn’t changed.

I’m in favour of Stop and Search. It’s a police tool that must never cease to be used on the streets of London. Everyone who wants their child to travel across our city safely will agree. At a time when violent crime seems to be everywhere, Stop and Search is a real deterrent to anyone thinking about carrying a weapon. People live in fear of being stabbed, but it’s the people who are carrying knives who should live in fear of being caught. If this means we need more Stop and Search, so be it.

But I’m also in favour of Stop and Search that is non- discriminatory, respectful and intelligence-led. And too often it’s not. Too often it appears unfair, abusive and apparently random. All this does is compound the problems we already have on our streets. It drives a deeper wedge between young people and the police, and ultimately makes our city less, not more safe.

I should know. I have been battered and bruised by the police on a number of occasions. I have been the victim of false accusations and attempted character assassination, and I have been stopped and searched more times than I can remember. Each experience gave me an increasingly negative view of the Met.

If Stop and Search is to work, we need three things in place. First, better training for the Met. After the MacPherson Inquiry, the Met has constantly reminded the public about the amounts of training individual offers are receiving “to make sure they understand what they are doing,” so why isn’t this evident on our streets?

Instead of reminding us about the amount of time officers spend training, sanctions must be given to those officers who continue to abuse their power by being aggressive, intimidating and violent during a ‘stop’. Training, re-training and more training cannot account for those who continue to “do it badly”; punishment is the only answer.

Secondly, Stop and Search must be intelligence-led, and currently it’s not. Across south east London, during the first six months of this year, for every 1,000 stops, on average only 6% were arrested in Lewisham, 9% in Lambeth, 6.5% in Greenwich and 8.5% in Southwark (not including Sections 44 and 60 cases). With such a low rate of arrest, you have to wonder whether the Met’s intelligence is based on what you look like or what car you are driving or how big the group is you are walking in.

Thirdly, we need a Stop and Search that is respectful and non-discriminatory. Why is there still a disproportionately large number of young black men who are stopped. And why are 25% of black children on the DNA database? And why are there still stories of abuse and even violence associated with Stop and Search? We all know people from all backgrounds who just hate being stopped by the police and may exhibit a hostile attitude, but this is not a reason for a police officer to lose his composure and forget to be professional.

For many young people, their first experience of the police is when they are stopped. If the only relationship they have with the police is during a Stop and Search, their only relationship will be a negative one.

And when things do go wrong, I want to see immediate action. Investigations into complaints should last no more than 28 days, with the officer in question banned from talking to any other officer implicated in the complaint. If a serious complaint is made, officers should be suspended, pending investigation, as would be the case in other jobs.

A person employed as a police officer has a unique position in life. The police are our servants and therefore cannot police effectively without our help. So let’s start doing things differently. Work with us by showing the respect we are all due and we will work with you to keep our schools, streets and estates crime-free. Show us that Stop and Search is non-discriminatory, respectful and intelligence-led, and you will have our support.

Duwayne Brooks is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Lewisham and author of Steve and Me: My Friendship with Stephen Lawrence and the Search for Justice.

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