England worst place in the world for bogus "walking while brown" stop-and-searches

The English and Welsh law allowing the police to stop-and-search people in "exceptional" circumstances was 29.7 times more often likely to be used against black people than it is against white people in the past year. According to The Guardian, these stop-and-search stats represent "the worst international record of discrimination involving stop and search." The report was compiled by the London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The rate of stop-and-search for black people in England and Wales has nearly tripled since 2009, when police and government and everyone else agreed it was a serious problem that should be dealt with. Nice work, everyone!

Less than 0.5 percent of stop-and-searches led to an arrest for possession of a weapon.

On Friday, the IPCC conceded that stop and searches that yield no arrest were antagonistic and "highly intrusive". A legal challenge that will ask the high court to rule section 60 "incompatible" with the European convention on human rights is under way. The case centres on a 37-year-old woman who claims she was targeted because she was black. Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy solicitors said there was clear statistical evidence that section 60 was being used in a discriminatory manner. He added: "There are not sufficient safeguards to ensure that the interference with individuals' personal integrity and liberty that such searches entail is proportionate and in accordance with the law."

The case follows the government's curtailment last year of the police use of section 44 counter-terrorism stop-and-search powers, which also allowed officers to act against individuals without reasonable suspicion. Campaigners hope the home secretary, Theresa May, will pre-empt the legal challenge by moving to amend the law on section 60, introducing restrictions on its use. A recent report by the LSE and the Guardian cited stop and search as a factor in the August riots, a conclusion that persuaded May to order a national review of how police use stop and search powers.

Stop and search 'racial profiling' by police on the increase, claims study


  1. This happened to me last year. As I left a bank (HSBC ) on my high street I was stopped by a ( out of breath ) Police Office who explained I was stopped because I was “seen, on CCTV,  leaving the Royal Bank Of Scotland” I matched the description of an Asian man wearing an Orange tee shirt who was wanted for questioning. When I pulled out my iphone and asked to start recording the conversation the office got a little concerned and was soon joined by her Colleagues. I was questioned about where I had been and what I was doing in town and told that the CCTV operator ( who is stationed over 20 miles away in another office ) identified me by my beard and tee shirt. They were looking for an Asian / Dark skinned man who was believed to be tampering with the Cash Machines. Iwas given a interview receipt and allowed on my way. The one small problem in all this, especially for the CCTV operator and for the Office involved. I am a middle aged white man with a goatee who was wearing an orange tee shirt. Apparently I “looked asian” on the camera. I am not sure what was worse; that the CCTV operator got it wrong or that I had not been near RBS or its area of town , but that the CCTV operator felt I was a good  candidate or that he detaining officer thought I “looked asian”  I still have the recording; just in case. 

    1. “Do you have your certificate of racial purity, citizen?”

      Wait, snark aside, “interview receipt?”  That is a dystopian sounding term right there if I’ve ever heard one!

      1. Well, if I were arbitrarily searched, I’d prefer having as much documentation as possible. Much more difficult for police to claim something else later.

        1. Interestingly when I popped the iphone into recording they looked a bit worried; as if people asserting what is legally within their right to do is something they should question and create cause to doubt. When I pointed out that it would ensure that every question and response could be verified later I was told “thats why I am writing it down” to which I responded , in which case you better spell your last note as Parish Councillor not Counsellor , it makes all the diference.  

    2. This sucks, of course, but isn’t this different from a seemingly random stop-and-search? They had a specific reason to look out for somebody that looked _roughly_ (by their definition anyway) like you and just wanted to check who you are. This is actually quite reasonable and fully legal in just about any Western country (“reasonable suspicion” makes all the difference; legally, anyway).

      I’d chalk it up to incompetence myself, not malice. Also, the CCTV part makes me shiver.

      1.  If you live in the US, you have just as much or possibly more CCTV in your cities, *and* armed police who are quite ready to shoot you at the slightest provocation.

          1.  Ah, that’s using the made-up figures from the Torygraph though.  I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it.  Anyway, all US cities have blanket CCTV coverage these days, far more so than most UK cities.

          2. No, they are numbers compiled by asking local authorities how many cameras they use, as is clearly stated in the article. Who should know if not them?

  2. I don’t think police should have a stop and search power AT ALL. It’s no good complaining that an essentially arbitrary power, costless to the user,  is used unfairly. Of course it will be.

    That said, gross comparisons of the total population and stop and search statistics is unfair (even) to the police and stupid. The rabble-rousing trope of ‘representativeness’ has become embedded in the way otherwise intelligent people think about social issues, but it is just wrong.  Not only do racists attribute more meaning to race than the little it merits; anti-racists do too.

    If you want to look at how much skin colour is a factor in police stops, then you have to compare like with like.  2%  – or 2.9% according to the ONS, with 6% ‘Asian’  (which to Britons means of Indian or Pakistani heritage) – of the population may be black, but that 2% of black people are not demographically evenly distributed through the population. They are significantly younger, significantly poorer, and massively more urban-resident than the white population. Even if a middle-aged, middle-class black man living in Devon is massively more likely than his ruddy yeoman peers to be stopped by police, it is going to be hard for him to make up a third of stops locally, and he won’t make a hair’s difference to the national statistics. There are undoubtedly other middle-aged, middle-class black men living in Devon apart from Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, but I dare to guess not many.

    If, however, a young man is more likely to be the subject of stop and search than an older one, and someone in Brent more than in Barnard Castle, then black people will be stopped more regardless of any police biases.

    Perhaps someone can find the original study in this case, then we can have a go at the numbers properly. While I was at it, I’d want to look at male-female ratios and age distributions. If it turns out that the subjects of stops are not in fact 50:50 female:male and that males predominate, are we to be similarly outraged? If not, then that is a deeper problem for the proportionality thesis. It would suggest that we generally do agree that there can be differential distributions in behaviour between socially distinguished groups that merit different treatment, and that we think we have a feel for some of them, while at the same time denying they might exist in other cases. Worthwhile data on that point are probably lacking.

  3. So it’s ok to stop and search based on skin colour, because black people are statisically-speaking more likely to be young, poor,  and live in cities?

    We should be outraged that the figures will doubtlessly show a male bias too; unless the police’s “random” stop-and-searches show that they are genuinely random, we should be outraged that they have these powers at all. Who does more harm to society; the urban youth with a knife or the middle class, middle aged embezzler who steals people’s pensions? Which of these two is more likely to get a lengthy prison sentence?

    The best way to avoid a “random” stop and search is to be rich enough that you don’t have to take public transport through central London. Until the police can be trusted to “randomly” search people on a genuinely random basis, and not take a sample that reflects their (and society’s) prejudices of class, gender, age and skin colour, we shouldn’t give them these powers at all. Even if, and it’s a big if, young, poor, black males are statistically more likely to commit crime and are not just more likely to be convicted of it, the sheer number of false positives that these tactics engender is entirely self defeating. Not only are they unlikely to find anything, but each stop they make further alienates whole sections of the society that they are supposed to represent. Meaningful convictions come from community cooperation, and if whole communities adopt “us versus them” relationships with the state as a result of police discrimination (whether it’s because of class, race or any other type of sampling bias), the police are only making their own lives more difficult.

    1. No. I”m not saying it is necessarily OK. I’m saying there’s a contingent bias caused by demography that has nothing to do with stops being based on skin colour, therefore the “29.7 times” figure is misleading. Until we know much much more about the structure of the population and the nature and circumstances of the stops, we cannot say how much stops are  racially motivated, even if it is common experience that they appear to be.

      The substance of an ECHR claim by one individual supplies no information about the more general statistical and sociological points.

      1. Regardless of their motivation, the police have stopped and searched 29.7 times more black people than white people under these powers. Even if every one of these stops was entirely justified and without racial (or class, or gender) motivation, they will still be perceived as being racist by the public, and the police should either correct their sample bias or, preferably, abandon the practice altogether.

        1. Question:  Is it more important to catch malefactors or to appear unbiased?  I don’t mean to present a false dichotomy, I’m aware that it should not be necessary to choose only one goal.  Just asking what you think the relative priority should be, of these two goals.

          1. Question: Is it more important to catch malefactors or to appear unbiased?

            What you catch is entirely determined by where you fish and what bait you’re using. So, yeah, false dichotomy.

            If you patrol black neighborhoods and stop black people at dramatically higher rates, then you’re going to have dramatically higher rates of arrest, trial and conviction for black people. This is not rocket science.

          2. To me, a 0.5% arrest rate doesn’t even begin to justify the harm, in terms of public perception, that this policy does to the police’s image.

            A 0.5% arrest rate means that they pointlessly interfered with 99.5% of the people they stopped, and those 99.5% are well within their rights to examine why the police chose to interfere with them and conclude that if nearly 30 times  more black people than white are being “randomly” stopped, the police’s motivation might well be racial.

            Meaningful arrests only come from having good community relations: people inform on criminals because they trust the police and want to improve their neighbourhoods. If that trust isn’t there, not only are the police less likely to receive information from the community, individuals themselves are more likely to commit crime.

            In that sense, more than appearing unbiased, appearing to serve the community is a far more pressing goal than catching a few teenagers with knives. One only needs to look at police presence in areas like Lambeth (never fewer than four officers in a group, always wearing full body armour, never leaving their fully-armoured riot van unless it’s for a “random” stop and search) to understand why their perception in the community is overwhelmingly negative.

            Until the police’s definition of “malefactors” extends to white-collar criminals in suits as well as urban youth in hoodies, and until they can convey this meaningfully to the population as a whole, they should abandon this policy entirely for being utterly self-defeating.

  4. According to the original article, a black person is 29.7 times more likely to be searched.  Thats completely different to what you’ve said here – that black people are stopped 29.7 times more often.  Still a shocking statistic though.

    1. You’re right; Cory’s statement implies that blacks are 1,500 times more likely to be searched. Accuracy matters, I fully agree.

  5. Another statistic worth noting would be the balance of arrests according to skin colour. Are more crimes commited by people of a particular skin colour, and if so – would that give police a reason? I’m not trying to be racist here, to try and explain it, if one crime was commited by a woman with one leg, would it be unfair if the majority of the people questioned were one legged women? 
    Does anyone know the stats for arrests in the UK according to race or sex? 

    1. People of color are going to be more likely to be arrested, regardless of whether or not they are committing more crimes. The police are working under a framework and mindset of institutional racism (both intentional and unintentional) so they will be watching them more closely, searching them more often, suspecting them of more crimes and assuming they are guilty. All of this will greatly inflate the arrest rates completely unrelated to actual amount of crime committed.

      1. You did not answer any of TheRedMax’s questions – your response is completely unrelated to his post.

        Although I do agree with what you said, personally.

    2. If you stop and search 20 black people for every one white person, what do you think are the chances are that you’re going to find something illegal on the people in the first group? Say 20 to 1? Stop and search patterns don’t reflect crime statistics; they CREATE them.

  6. Is it “black people” who are being stopped and searched more often or is it “people who are not behaving according to the police person’s ideas of normal behaviour”? Do black police stop more whites? Are we having some kind of cultural misunderstanding?

    Or is it that black people live in poorer or whatever areas : meaning that’s where the police hang out most. If you walk past 90 black faces to every 10 whites, then of course your search rate is going to be biased to the black end.
    In some areas, if the police were to stop 30 times more blacks than whites, the same bloke would spend all day being searched ;-)

    Or is it simply that the Guardian have divided the world into “black and white” and everyone with a slight tan is “black”. In which case, you’ve got “African” black, mid-eastern brown, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, etc  all being lumped into the one statistic. In which case, the “white” stops are probably about the same as the black stops, which are the same as the brown stops, etc…The original article neatly avoids the issue of whether there was a significantly higher arrest (or chase) rate from black to white. If for example the arrest rate was 60% higher then the whites should be complaining about positive discrimination that the police only stopped 30% more blacks when they were committing 60% more crime.(If the arrest rate is roughly equal, then the extra percentage of stopped black people is clearly disproportionate to the number of whites.)The Guardian is well known for certain political views and it appears to be once again, only giving, at best, half the story to promote those views.

    1. While I’m not going to challenge your right to vehemently disagree with any given newspaper, I think you really should take the time to read the actual article, whereupon you might discover the fact that the report giving the figures (and presumably the definitions of ‘black’ and  ‘asian’ used by the researchers) was a joint effort by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Open Society Justice Initiative, and nothing to do with the Guardian, who were merely reporting the news of its publication.

  7. What the stop and search rate for people wearing hoodies vs. not wearing hoodies? About 100 to 1, I hear. Also ballcaps and track suits.

    1. Exactly.

      The police aren’t stopping black people, they’re stopping people that look like they’re in gangs, some of whom happen to be black – there’s a huge difference.

      Funnily enough most gang violence in London is in minority communities.  And gang violence in London is a problem.

      I don’t think the police are stopping black CEO’s power walking to their next meeting – so I don’t see where the evidence is that if you’re black you’re more likely to be stopped.  I think the primary trigger is looking like a violent criminal.  Unfortunately gang culture is prevalent in black youth sub-culture, through music and fashion, which probably doesn’t help matters.  And of course, there are plenty of white gang kids too, but that’s reflected in the stats as far as I can see.  Unless there’s a stat somewhere that says there are exactly as many white gang kids in London as Black gang kids in London, I don’t see see what’s wrong with this percentage.  In fact, the areas that these searches are likely to take place will be in areas where that ratio is likely reflected in the  demographic of the community.  Maybe the problem is that we’re looking for gang members in gang areas, rather than Park Lane?

      That said this kind of race inequality in law making is hardly unknown, and I don’t wish to purport otherwise, but I don’t think there’s any more racism going on here than in any other line of police work. Maybe I’m being optimistic.

      This all said, the law is stupid, and while I have NO faith in Theresa May doing anything positive for society, I do hope challengers to this human rights atrocity are successful; irrelevant of race or creed.

      1. I’m really curious, actually. A statistic that shows more ppl of one race over another are subject to stop and search only shows that facet. It doesn’t tell me what they were doing, where they were hanging out, what they were wearing… no other factor is given, except for the extremely low rate of finding weapons. Could be other forces at work than just race. Still… You can’t stop ppl just for being brown. That’s fucked up.

      2. I don’t think the police are stopping black CEO’s power walking to their next meeting

        Perhaps because institutionalized racism makes black CEOs rarer than hen’s teeth.

        I think the primary trigger is looking like a violent criminal.

        And for the police, the definition of ‘looking like a violent criminal’ is ‘being black’. Just like the definition for looking like a terrorist is being brown. Your comment is appallingly steeped in racist assumptions.

        1. “Perhaps because institutionalized racism makes black CEOs rarer than hen’s teeth.”
          Sorry, but we’re talking about Britain here, not America. Black people make up around 2% of the population.  Of those around 0.8% are very recent immigrants, mostly from east Africa, the rest mostly related to (or just plane are) those who emigrated from the Carribean in the 1950s to work in low skilled jobs.

          Those are people who would be demographically less likely to become CEOs anyway.  

          Compare that to the Ugandan Asians who came to Britain in the 70s, who were essentially a middle class group and have been, on the whole, very successful economically/socially.

          Sorry, bug bear of mine.  Race relations in Britain are intrinsically tied to immigration and class.  You can’t just transfer US analysis over, but a lot of people do.  It’s caused no end of problems, particularly as far as the white working class are concerned, since in pretty much every study they do as badly as the black working class, but being a less obvious group get much less attention, then bang, BNP.

          To get on topic, I would like to see a comparison of these figures compared and seperated by demographics.  And then I’d like to see the powers of stop and search further reduced, because I think it does more harm than good.

  8. Bob Dylan, “Hurricane”

    When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
    Just like the time before and the time before that
    In Patterson that’s just the way things go
    If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
    ‘Less you wanna draw the heat.

  9. The police aren’t stopping black people, they’re stopping people that look like they’re in gangs.

    I.e. young, black and asian men. And let’s not forget that they’re also stopping people who look like they might be Muslim terrorists, i.e. young, asian men. Also ‘foreign’-looking people taking photos, as has been recorded in this blog several times.

    And they don’t stop black men in suits? First, I’d like to see that backed up with, you know, actual evidence, instead of as a bald assertion pulled out of the air. Second of all, even if it’s true, so what? A polis isn’t going to stop and search someone who might actually be in a position to cause them trouble. You never know when the man in a suit might be the new chief constable on his way to a meeting, or just know the new chief constable.

    1. In my defence I’m not stating facts, so I can’t cite them; these are my assumptions, but I welcome challenges to these assumptions.

      You missed my point entirely though; gang-kid profile is not defined by race.  There are many factors – but even when removing race as a factor altogether you’d still be questioning more black people than white in most of the poorer areas of London – that’s the demographic.  Or do you expect the police to go and question a bulk of white people just to get the numbers levelled out?  Wouldn’t that be an egregious waste of time?

      If, and only if, the police are intentionally singling out black people, because they’re black, then that’s not only wrong, it’s a crime.  But I don’t think that’s the case here (on the most part of course).

      But as I say, the law itself is ridiculous, and it actually invites subjective judgement, as people are being stopped ‘at random’; and in many ways I don’t blame the police for making some kind of judgment as to who to stop; I know I’d rather be checking people that look like they might actually be criminals; but ultimately they shouldn’t be in that position in the first place – it welcomes prejudice, they should be stopping people they actually suspect, based on some kind of evidence. But stopping people because they fit a race-neutral gang profile isn’t as bad as stopping someone because of the colour of their skin, and that’s my point… I think.

        1. :D

          My point being that I’m chewing the fat on a comment thread, not writing a dissertation.  I’d much rather someone call me out on an error than spend a few hours researching to make a comment :)

      1. Or do you expect the police to go and question a bulk of white people just to get the numbers levelled out?  Wouldn’t that be an egregious waste of time?

        Of course it would, if you are a racist cop looking to confirm your bias.

        1. Hypothetical context:

          So if there’s a certain police task force that’s based in the most prominent gang area in London, and there are 30 black people that fit the Gang Profile* to every 1 white person, at the end of the day they should leave the area and search a bunch of white people at random so that the stats balance?  
          That would be solving an imaginary race issue with a swathe of searches based on race.

          I’d personally rather not see the police targeting any particular race. Or performing random, unwarranted searches; or profiled, unwarranted searches.  It’s all bad.

          That all said, the numbers are still off; there’s clearly a racial bias, but if you’ve never heard of operation Trident it might be worth looking up, as there’s an entire division of the Met Police that address black-on-black crime; for all we know the Trident police used these search rights heavily throwing off the stats.

          I have enough issues with our police and government – I’m being optimistic, If I’m wrong then no one wins.

          * For arguments sake this profile consists of the suspect being between 12 and 30, dressed in a hoody and baseball cap and wearing at least one item of orange clothing and being accompanied by at least one other person fitting the same profile.  Orange is the hypothetical gang colour in this scenario.

  10. Some people make a good point about how numbers/stats can be twisted to show things in an extreme when little to no context is provided about the data set.  Others are also making a good point about the human nature of profiling/stereotyping.  I agree it’s not good that we profile, especially officers of the law, but is there any other way?  I don’t ask that sarcastically, because reality is very different than what rules and statistics can teach us about it.  Example, if you were a terrorist, why dress in a manner that draws attention?  Obvious these numbers show that if you dressed in nice clothes and acted causal then your odds of getting stopped are going to decrease significantly.  And more than likely smart terrorists or anyone committing a crime is going to know that.  On the other side you have youth gang members dressing the part, acting the part, and committing crimes.  In one sense it makes them easier to distinguish, but it also makes the likely hood of false accusations/stops much higher.  I occasionally wear a hoodie and sweat pants out, look unkempt, and avoid people.  I’d wager everyone does that from time to time, just like getting dressed up to go somewhere nice.

    I don’t want to see any one demographic singled out for any reason, but what other tools do we have to help prevent/deter crimes, especially gang types of violence, other than profiling?  Obviously the police can investigate crimes and build cases, but that doesn’t deter the crimes from happening in the first place.

    1. I don’t want to see any one demographic singled out for any reason, but what other tools do we have to help prevent/deter crimes, especially gang types of violence, other than profiling?

      Hire cops from a demographic pool other than “stupid bullies”

  11. It is funny that the police collect these statistics. We know they target minorities, they know they target minorities, etc. but they don’t adapt their policy.

    I have been stopped and searched once at a train station in South East London.
    I learnt two things from the encounter:

    a) When you are stopped and searched, you get a receipt
    b) When I asked the officer why they were stopping commuters – (this in the context of me being ‘white’) – had there been a crime near the station? – he honestly came back with the reply “No, there’s no crime taken place here. We normally stop minorities. We do training days and search people like you to help to balance the numbers”

  12. The fact that they find a weapon in only one half of one per cent of stops also shows what a waste of time the entire process is, racism or no.  I’ll bet that number is right about what you get if you simply stopped people completely randomly, given the extremely wide definition of weapon as used these days in England where pretty mu  anything with a sharp edge in your pocket can run you foul of the “knife laws”.

    Freedom is a transitory thing, I suspect the age of it is ending as power always tends to become corrupted and people always demand more “security” no matter what they must give up.

  13. I have a problem with random searches and a problem with this discussion thread. Random searches seem to be based on the officers’ perceptions of people. If the officer is an older white person, then he/she might not understand the cultural differences of the youth. This might cause them to be more suspicious of people wearing baggy clothes (for example). Leaving the decision of who to search up to the officers’ discretion is a bad idea.

    My problem with this thread is it is focusing on racial aspects of searches. I am more interested in protecting the innocent regardless of race. A person’s style, race, sex, or age should not be a consideration at all. If a person is ACTING suspicious then they should be searched. If a long-haired hippie with a tie-dye shirt is walking next to a young black man with baggy clothes and tattoos are doing nothing wrong they should be left alone. 

    1. My problem with this thread is it is focusing on racial aspects of searches.

      Maybe because that’s the subject of the post.

      1. The problem is random searches are a form of assault, period hands down.  If you make of habit of searching someone who has not done anything outward that he can control, two things happen, he suffers psychological stress and he classifies you as an enemy.  This sort of thing makes honest police work extremely difficult.

        If you do this to a minority group, then you lose the ability to provide police protection to that members of that group.

  14. That fact of the matter is it’s much, much worse than the stats show, because it’s now common practice to stop an equal number of white people as the black people you actually want to question, have the PCSO’s to a half-hearted search of them, while the real police officers search the black people they actually wanted to search all along.

    Hey presto, even stats!

Comments are closed.