By George Willoughby
Asians living in England and Wales are at least twice as likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people.
According to the 2016 Police Appendix Tables, the rate of people with Asian heritage stopped was 13 per 1,000 during 2019/20.
This is the highest figure since 2014.
Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Neil Basu, said: “Stop and search is the most controversial power that we use. If we cannot explain why it is disproportionate, then we are in a very bad place.”
“We have to examine it very closely because it is an incredibly valuable policing tool. If we do not use it responsibly and correctly, then we deserve to lose it.”
Furthermore, the number of Asian people stopped and searched by police forces has increased in two consecutive years.
Stop and search figures were representative of reported incidents that took place under section one of PACE. This is when police have the power to search persons or vehicles if the officer has reasonable cause to find dangerous items.
About this chart: The data in this graph can be accessed from Data.gov.uk. It shows the total number of Asian people stopped and searched by year. Figures show an upwards trend but should be seen as just the starting point in making a conclusion. There are more people with Asian heritage living in certain police force areas than others. It is expected that more Asian people would be stopped. The popups on the bars show that the percenatge of Asians being searched is increasing which requires further investigation.
Disproportionate stopping of Asian minorities
Figures released by the Home Office showed that one in 10 of searches from 2019/20 were those of Asian ethnicity.
Out of the 43 total forces, eight were above the average for Asians stopped and searched.
The force which stopped the highest proportion of Asian people was the West Midlands Police Force. They made up over one quarter of searches.
People of Asian heritage make up 12 percent of the total population in the area.
West Midlands Police’s lead for Stop & Search, Superintendent Ed Foster, said: “On those figures alone, Asians are 2.4 times more likely to be stopped than white people.”
“We are working to better understand why disproportionality occurs, including research with four academic centres and workshops with communities who are disproportionately affected by stop and search.”
West Midlands Police cover multiple areas where there are more residents of Asian ethnicity.
This includes Central and East Birmingham which have high crime rates in the West Midlands.
Neil Basu said that these types of areas are a contributing factor to why the figures can be disproportionate.
“We need to get to the point of why it is disproportionate”, says Basu. “Some places have very high levels of deprivation. They have been socially and economically ignored for decades.
“The way we do things can end up being disproportionate. This is without talking about why society is left in a position where disproportionality exists.”
West Yorkshire Police was another force that was asked to explain the disproportionality.
The annual figures from the Home Office showed that over one in five stop and searches involved people with Asian heritage.
Assistant Chief Constable Catherine Hankinson, said: “We are very committed to openness and transparency regarding the use of stop and search.”
“The use by officers of stop and search powers can be a vital tool in keeping the communities of West Yorkshire safe. We are acutely aware that we must use these powers carefully and proportionally.
“We recognise that figures show people from BAME (including Asian) backgrounds are generally overrepresented in stop and search figures nationally, and locally. There is work ongoing across a number of areas to better understand this disproportionality.”
Asians in Bedfordshire accounted for nearly 15% of the forces stop and searches during 2019/20.
But, Luton makes up one-third of the Asian communities in the area. This explains why a large proportion of stop and searches are those with Asian backgrounds.
The figures show that even with a high proportion of Asian people living in Bedfordshire, stop and search powers are not being exploited.
Superintendent Ian Taylor, Bedfordshire Police’s lead for stop and search, said: “We recognise that the fair and legitimate use of stop and search is a key component to building trust and confidence with the communities of Bedfordshire that we serve.
“Using the latest census data and stop search statistics updated in November, in Bedfordshire six per 1,000 members of the Asian community were stopped and searched over the past year, compared to a national average of 15 per 1,000 people.
“We invite close external and independent scrutiny through direct work with community members who can review the statistics around stop and search and disproportionality.”
About this chart: The data in this chart can be accessed from Data.gov.uk. To figure out the percentages, the number of Asian people stopped was divided by the total number of stop and searches by each police force. This gave a proportion and the top three were selected. Analysis into these three forces should not be treated as a trend for other forces. Figures for Greater Manchester and the British Transport Police were not included. Both areas did not have sufficient enough data.
The rate of Asians being stopped is increasing
Nationally, the rate per 1,000 for those of Asian heritage being stopped and searched has been rising.
Using population estimates from the 2011 census, 15 per 1,000 Asians were stopped and searched in the year ending March 2020.
This is the highest rate since the end of 2015.
A more accurate representation would be to use the 2016 police force breakdown estimates as populations have changed since statistics were recorded in 2011.
The rate per 1,000 was 13 - following the same trend of gradual increases over the past five years.
The rate of white people being stopped and searched was 5 per 1,000.
Asians are almost three times more likely to be stopped by police through stop and search powers based on breakdown estimates.
But, Neil Basu says it is “more of a nuanced argument.”
“Society has been effectively prejudiced for a very long time,” says the assistant commissioner.
“That is not absolving our responsibility for what we do if we are contributing to that prejudice.
“We need behavioural sciences to start explaining what has happened to lead us to this point and then help us get better with it.”
About this chart: The data for this chart can be accessed from Data.gov.uk. Users have the choice to select either the figures using the 2011 census or the 2016 police appendix tables. For the 2016 line, the editorial decision was made to use the census figures for the first three years as they are the most accurate. From 2013 the rate was calculated using the appendix tables.
Criminalising a generation
Figures are published monthly for each police force on data.police.uk.
According to data for October, younger people are stopped and searched more compared to older age groups.
There were a total of 5,398 Asians that were stopped and searched. This was across all police force areas in England and Wales.
The reported incidents were counted only if ethnicity and age were identified.
From the total number of searches, 3,191 (59%) were between the ages of 10-24.
As the previous annual figures showed, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Bedfordshire stopped the highest percentage of Asians in relation to their searches.
An analysis looked into these three forces and whether they were criminalising a generation by stopping younger Asians.
Data was used from October 2019 to October 2020.
Out of the 20,409 searches by West Midlands Police, 5,875 were people with Asian heritage.
The number of Asians aged 10-24 that were stopped and searched was 3,707, meaning six in 10 searches were in this age range.
Superintendent Ed Foster said: “Our intention is to put in place interventions to reduce disproportionality, including ongoing training to ensure fairness and eliminate any bias.”
West Yorkshire Police also had the same percentage of younger Asians stopped and searched.
Assistant Chief Constable Catherine Hankinson said: “We record every instance of the use of stop and search powers on body-worn camera, further increasing accountability and our actions are subject to robust scrutiny.
“We are educating staff, engaging with communities [and] explaining our use of powers and evolving our policies.”
From these three forces, Bedfordshire Police stopped the highest rate of younger Asian people.
During the same period, 3,579 people were stopped and searched - 692 of which were Asian. Asians aged between 10-24 accounted for 483 of those searches.
This means that seven in 10 searches of Asian people were below 25 years of age.
Superintendent Ian Taylor said: “We have recently held meetings on stop and search which gave the wider community the chance to discuss how we are using [the tool].”
“An approach we are also replicating with young people working alongside our partnership agencies. “Community members can review the statistics around stop and search and disproportionality, as well as randomly select video examples.”
About this chart: The data for this chart was downloaded from Data.police.uk. All the monthly figures were combined to make a yearly dataset. At the time, data for October was the latest version. Stop and search stats for November have since been published. All types of stop and searches were included in this chart. Also, the figures included were only when age and ethnicity were identified. This means that the data should not be treated as a total figure. So, there could have been more Asian people stopped because their ethnicity was identified, but their age was not. This choice was made for greater accuracy.
Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police emphasised that younger people need to feature in independent advisory groups. “It is not people my age who are thought to be the problem” - says Basu.
“It is youngsters who need to be advising us on how to [stop and search] in a professional and better way. When these techniques are used professionally, and in an intelligence-led way, people support them.
“I’m less concerned about it raising a generation of criminals. I’m more concerned about generating a generation that no longer trusts the police. That is bad for the public and bad for society.”
The next annual dataset on stop and search will be published later this year.
Picture source: dagmarbendel (via: Pixabay)