This is an open letter to Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe. We invite a response, which, if received, we will publish in full.
Dear Mr Hogan-Howe,
I attended your talk at the London School of Economics last night. Amidst the management-speak and froth, a single statistic that you mentioned caught my attention.
“Young black men are four times more likely than others to be stopped and searched under Section 1 [of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984] and eight times more likely than others to be stopped and searched under Section 60 [of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994]”
Alone these are startling words, but I would like to interrogate them a little further. Since the “sus laws” were repealed in the early 1980s, the police have needed “reasonable suspicion” to commit a stop and search under Section 1. But under Section 60 no such demand is made. Under Section 60, where for a specified time and area this law is put into action, any police officer is able “to stop any pedestrian and search him” without reasonable suspicion.
What does all of this mean? Well ultimately that the demand for “reasonable suspicion” is barely keeping the police force in check, but that when Section 60 is invoked something far more worrying is revealed: Police in London consistently believe that more young black men are involved in crime than they have reasonable grounds to suspect. That is, police officers consistently have an unfounded belief in the criminality of young black men, which is significantly affecting their conduct using the Section 60 Stop and Search laws. We can probably assume, too, that what is exposed about the police force by this statistic affects all areas of their work, and their contact with the communities of London.
The Section 60 imposed across London immediately after the riots in August can be seen as a test case. Walking around the streets of Camden, Islington, and Hackney, I saw police officers stopping and searching each and every young black man walking on main streets. As a white 25-year old male I wasn’t stopped once.
You also mentioned last night that you believe strongly in people’s right to go about their business unmolested. But what is clear, from the fact that 90% of stop and searches result in no further action, is that stop and search is being used punitively, and that it is being used punitively not against individuals but against communities of London divided along the lines of race. Every day, young black men in our city are molested going about their business by a racist force whose power to stop and search is being used as a means to harass and abuse young black people.
Where officers cannot, within their powers, arrest or charge young black people in line with their unfounded racist belief in the criminality of young black men, they are using their powers of stop and search as a means of punishment. You may, from your office, not consider it a great attack on personal liberty to be stopped and searched, but when it happens to you day after day, week after week, and on no basis but for the colour of your skin, then it is nothing but harassment.
We welcome a response from you on these matters.