Beefed-up stop and search ‘is not working’ in Islington
Exclusive: Figures released to the Tribune show only 1 in 20 cases led to arrests
26 October, 2018 — By Samantha Booth
StopWatch’s Katrina Ffrench and, right, Cllr Andy Hull
CONTROVERSIAL powers that give police the right to stop and search people without the need for suspicion led to arrests in fewer than 5 per cent of cases in Islington last month, raising concerns that the tactic is ineffective.
Two children aged 13 were among the 87 searched in September under Section 60 powers, which have been increasingly deployed in the borough in a bid to tackle knife crime.
The sweeping measures, which can cover several postcodes or cross borough boundaries, have to be signed off by a senior officer. Unlike the usual stop-and-search remit, they remove the need for uniformed officers to have “reasonable grounds” to conduct the search.
The powers were most recently used by police across Islington and neighbouring Camden on Wednesday amid police fears of a flare-up of gang rivalry.
The Met says it strongly believes in the “preventative power”, which is used where serious violence is likely or has already taken place.
However, critics have questioned the effectiveness of section 60s and how their use is communicated to the wider public.
Figures obtained by the Tribune from the Met under the Freedom of Information Act showed how in total 87 people were stop-and-searched under Section 60 powers in Islington last month.
From those stops, a large majority – 78 – were let go with no further action. Only one offensive weapon was found, along with five class-B drugs and two class-A drugs, as well as one instance of stolen property. Four people were arrested and five other cases were resolved through “community resolution”.
Katrina Ffrench, chief executive of StopWatch and former chair of Islington Stop and Search Monitoring Group, said: “The low positive outcome rates for Section 60 searches demonstrate the ineffective nature of the power.
“It is my firm belief that searches should only be carried out where an officer has formed a reasonable suspicion that the person is in possession of a prohibited article.
“StopWatch is concerned that under section 60 authorisations people who are not involved in serious violence but may be in possession of a small personal amount of cannabis will be drawn into the criminal justice system.”
Islington and Camden’s most senior police officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Iain Raphael, said in the summer he would increase the use of section 60 stop-and-search powers to tackle violence.
London Assembly member Sian Berry, who sits on City Hall’s police and crime committee and is co-leader of the Green Party, said: “It seems that in Islington and across most of London, section 60 is being used more often and across wider areas as a specific tactic by police.
“But I massively question whether it’s necessary or effective. What it does is remove the important right not to be stopped and searched, unless they have a good reason, on a regular basis.”
The chair of Islington Safer Neighbourhood Board, Roger D’Elia, said the board had met with police about Section 60 and he was satisfied by the police’s use of the power in the borough.
“There is heightened gang tensions across the area. We would support it as long as it’s lawful, proportional and appropriate to drive those tensions down. But we do have a watching group on this.”
Town Hall safety chief Councillor Andy Hull said he would be looking to the Safer Neighbourhood Board to scrutinise police use of the power. He said the tactic also helps to deter and disrupt the carrying of weapons.
He added: “Section 60 is a significant power. Removing the need for reasonable grounds to search someone is not something to be taken lightly. I think it should be exercised responsibly and transparently and that particularly a scrutiny arrangement pay it close attention.”
Chief Inspector Simon Crick, the Met’s stop-and-search lead for Islington, said: “We strongly believe in the use of this preventative power.
“Section 60 effectiveness is not only about what illegal items were found, but also about whether any incidences or further incidences of violence took place, and how safe the community felt.
“As ‘reasonable grounds’ are not required for searches under section 60 we would expect arrest and outcome rates to be lower than those exercised under other powers.”