The Beating Crime Plan: Stop & Search Returns

The Beating Crime Plan: Stop & Search Returns

We emerge tentatively from the lockdown.  People have been staying in their homes more than at any time in living memory. As a possible result, the sofa-bound nation saw its most significant drop in crime since 2010.  For me, the progress of lockdown has been somewhat akin to being slowly and tenderly given a sponge-bath with a handful of nettles. Watching world governments fumble one of the greatest opportunities for innovation and reform we will see in our lifetimes has been grating, demotivating, and exhausting.

The lowest crime rate in a decade, millions of people off the streets, what better moment than now to overhaul the police, or the courts?  What better chance to reintroduce the people and the police to the streets together in a new context?

As if by a spiteful genie, my wishes have been granted, the current administration has been rapidly advancing changes in policing and law. The Beating Crime Plan, a brainchild of Boris Johnson, has been brought to the table, but worrying patterns are being drawn in legislation. In conjunction with the “Legislation to Counter State Threats,” the occurrence of this appears to be a turn toward authoritarianism within the justice system that should concern all citizens.

The Beating Crime Plan:

In July, Boris Johnson came out of isolation, guns blazing.  He unveiled a plan designed to more actively and aggressively combat both violent and non-violent crime.  Endorsed by Priti Patel, the program includes a widespread expansion of police powers.

The plan suggests an expansion of the ability of police to perform drug tests on suspects, an expansion of the areas in which people on probation will have to wear ankle tags, and, most importantly, a nationwide increase of Police stop and search powers.  Meaning that police would be able to stop and search any person for any reason.

The plan was widely ridiculed for a variety of reasons, the most infuriating being the sheer quantity of precedent. Stop and search is a method of policing that has been employed extensively all across the world.  There have been reports and experimental studies carried out and published both in the UK and the US. 

The effect of the implementation of stop and search policing on violent crime in London was studied.  No significant decrease was found.  Any reduction of offences found to be related to stop and search activity was found to be in drug possession, even in this case, very small.  The crime and justice policy review calls the evidence for any reduction of violent theft-related crimes to be “at the outer margins of statistical or social significance.”  Meaning, in plain English, that the effect was so small, if it existed, that they couldn’t tell for sure if there was one.

To make things even further, the effectiveness of stop and search in its direct application to British cities for the exact purposes of reducing knife crime, one of the pet causes for the current bill, has been analysed.  The Home Office itself conducted these studies.  Their statement was as follows.

“Overall, analysis shows that there was no discernible crime-reducing effects from a large surge in stop and search activity at the borough level during the operation.”

Adopting a discredited strategy to establish a reputation as a law and order strongman is an ill-advised path in and of itself.  It would be reason enough to criticise Johnson and his plan for posturing and mismanaging police time and resources.  However, the adoption of such a strategy in the absence of any new evidence, when the government has publicly stated that it failed to establish its effectiveness, shows a sickening level of hypocrisy and disregard for the citizenry.

Race and stop and search policing: can the two be separated?

From its use in New York to its use in London, the unbiased implementation of stop and search policing has proven to be outside the grasp of two of the most successful empires in history.  Government data has shown that black people in the UK were nine times more likely to be searched than white people from 2018 to 2019.  Horrified onlookers cannot even find refuge in the rationalisation that this is the death throe of a dying trend.  The disparity has been growing since 2015.

This is Johnson’s plan, endorsed by Patel. The government is well aware of the reputation of stop and search policing. It is well aware of the effects it has on minorities in this country. Policing has not been racialised in the UK media to the same extent that it has in our transatlantic cousins, but we must not forget that racism exists within our nation too. Like over the pond, minorities are significantly more likely to receive sentences for drug possession than their white counterparts.

In this context, the implementation of further stop and search powers can lead to nothing but hundreds of thousands of young men.

Young men of all races, but primarily minorities, are constantly harassed by the police, hundreds of thousands of young men learning to fear the police and see them as enemies

There is no plea to ignorance. On the contrary, investigations have been carried out, data presented. For example, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has investigated nationwide use of stop and search and found that it disproportionately affects the BAME population. “Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no forcefully understands the impact of the use of these powers,” they added. “Disproportionality persists, and no force can satisfactorily explain why.” 

Yet still, post-pandemic, post-black lives matter, the government pushes this method. This leaves the obvious question, why?  This question, of course, has no honest answer, but a few things seem to rise to the surface.  The only thing more present than the ill reputation of stop and search policing is its intuitiveness.  On the surface, its brutal simplicity and deceitful efficiency are visible.  How could it not work? You are just letting cops take knives from people whenever they want!

Sisyphean tasks:  Why can’t we resist trying it again and again?

The temptation to respond to criticisms of stop and search policing with a scoff and “well, I guess letting cops take away people’s drugs is a bad thing now” is undeniable. Yet, it’s an easy-to-understand and visible strategy.  No namby-pamby social science, no need to consult universities, no need for expensive equipment – it’s the simple, satisfying crunch of boots on the ground and police-car tyres, the clang of jail doors and criminals off the streets. It’s the gut satisfaction of locking them up.

In this way, the counterargument dies.  As a politician, as a newscaster, to take this type of policy on, in the eyes of the public, is to take this satisfaction away from them.  You are arguing against the image of a policeman keeping the neighbourhood safe; you are arguing against “locking them up.”  And what do you have as an alternative?  Investing in the community? Rehabilitative justice? What, you want to give them money?

When a politician puts a plan like this forward, as Johnson did, they are playing to the psychology of the public.  They are giving them what they want, a sense of law and order in the streets, the satisfaction of feeling justice being done.  They are presenting a simple plan which promises visible, tangible effects. But, whether they base this plan in reality or not, their opponents are fighting an uphill battle.  Asking the spectators to ignore all of this quick and easy satisfaction, asking them to forgive “simple and effective” in favour of a spiel of social science.  All their facts and figures blown down like a house of cards with a wry smile and: “If they aren’t carrying something they shouldn’t, why are they worried?”

Written by Leo Black | Illustrated by Gerogia Harmey

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