Boris Johnson’s latest claim “to come down hard on crime” has caused widespread concern. Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, for example, slammed his approach as “draconian”. She also warned it had the potential to trigger unrest and riots.
Stop and search
Johnson announced plans to “make criminals afraid” in the Mail on Sunday. In addition to investing £2.5bn for an additional 10,000 prison places, Johnson’s also extending Section 60 (S 60) stop and search powers for police.
Abbott slammed Johnson, saying:
History has taught the Tories nothing. Extending Section 60 powers over the Summer is a tried and tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction.
This draconian approach shows that Boris Johnson’s government has no real plans to invest in policing or a public health approach to tackling violent crime. They have opted to ‘appear tough’ instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.
She further noted that this approach has “only poisoned police community relations”. And she later went on to insist:
As I have continuously said, there just isn't the evidence to suggest the old indiscriminate stop and search method for dealing with gun and knife crime is effective. This has been verified by BBC reality check and figures from the home office. https://t.co/YpOUy3AWdS
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) August 12, 2019
She also called Johnson’s efforts “supremely ruthless”, saying:
No link between rates of stop and search and prevalance of violent crime. And Boris knows this perfectly well. He is being supremely ruthless in trying to paint @theresa_may as some kind of liberal softie. It is about what works. https://t.co/uRhRm7OY9I
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) August 12, 2019
S 60 is part of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which was allegedly designed “to provide an exceptional [police] response to anticipated violence”. As policing campaign group StopWatch noted, it can also “curtail people’s civil liberties at a moment’s notice”.
Even before Johnson’s announcement, June figures showed a “five-fold increase in the number of stop and searches” in London alone. As the Guardian reported:
Searches under section 60 had increased in the capital from 1,836 in 2017-18 to 9,599 in 2018-19
In addition, figures showed a 219% rise in “authorised S 60 orders”.
A disproportionate number of those searches affected Black people, especially young men. As StopWatch chief executive Katrina Ffrench told the Guardian:
Black men are eight or nine times more likely, nationally, to be stopped than their white counterparts, so there’s a racial unfairness in not everyone being treated equally.
‘Racial profiling’ uses “ethnic characteristics to predict whether a person is likely to commit a crime”. It’s fundamentally based on stereotypes and suspicion. And although not an officially recognised policing strategy in the UK, it’s rising. In 2018, for example, figures showed that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people. Amid the ongoing debate about knife crime, it’s taken artists like Akala and Stormzy to tear down the myths about links between ethnicity and violent crime.
Johnson has now extended those powers. A further 8,000 police officers can stop and search people; and they only need authorisation from an inspector, rather than a senior inspector.
Behind the headlines
Abbott is right that Johnson’s government really hasn’t done anything to address the root causes of either the UK’s policing crisis or the rise in knife and violent crime. For a start, promising 20,000 extra police ignores the loss of “20,564 officers between March 2010 and March 2019”.
And as a report from the all-parliamentary group on knife crime found, there are direct links between “cuts to youth services and the country’s knife crime epidemic”. It stated:
Analysis of council youth service budgets and knife crime data since 2014 has found areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen bigger increases in knife crime.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said this was “alarming but sadly unsurprising”. He continued:
Taking away youth workers and safe spaces in the community contributes to a ‘poverty of hope’ among young people who see little or no chance of a positive future.
Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel’s approach to policing and crime is terrifying. Patel said she wants criminals to “feel terror”; and Johnson has now echoed this. This tough ‘law and order’ approach may well hint that a general election is imminent. Yet the impact – especially for young people and Black people – could well create the perfect storm for civil unrest.
These changes threaten everyone’s civil liberties. For communities that have already been broken by years of violent policing, ‘racial profiling’, cuts to youth services, and nine years of Tory-led austerity, this could be a threat too far.
Featured image via screengrab
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