'It's called police work and it's what we should do' - Chief Constable mounts robust defence of HUGE rise in stop and search

Chief Constable Stephen Watson has mounted a robust defence of a huge rise in the use of stop and search in Greater Manchester. The latest figures reveal 46,029 stop and search encounters in the year to April, a fourfold increase compared to three years ago when he was installed.

The top cop concedes it is considered a controversial tactic 'in certain quarters' because of the disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities who are stopped. GMP figures from last year suggested black people were 2.1 times more likely to be stop searched, down from 3.7 the year before. Nationally, black people were 4.8 times more likely to be stop searched.

But Chief Constable Watson said the huge rise in stop and search and the increase in other forms of pro-active policing such as arrests, which doubled to 64,729 last year, lay behind a seven per cent fall in recorded crime in Greater Manchester.

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At the same, he said, last year GMP recorded only 112 complaints about stop and search procedures, which he described as 'small beer' while the number of encounters which resulted in a 'positive outcome' such as an arrest was 20.4 per cent, about the same as three years ago.

Stop and search powers allow officers to search people if they have 'reasonable grounds' to suspect the person has drugs, weapons or stolen property. Officers have the power to stop and search people without suspicion if a senior officer has approved so-called 'section 60' powers, usually invoked following incidents of serious violence or disorder.

In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, after three years in post as chief constable, Mr Watson said: "It's thought to be controversial in certain quarters. My view is that provided it's done professionally, objectively, respectfully and lawfully then it ought not to be controversial. It's just called police work and that's what we should do.

"We have quadrupled stop and search in GMP. Last year we stopped and searched 34,000 people more than we did in the previous year. This is 660 odd people more in a week."

In the same period, The Met's use of stop and search in London has reduced by 44 per cent, according to policing minister Chris Philp.

Mr Watson continued: "The point about stopping and searching people, it's not an end in itself. The point about us quadrupling stop and search is that that has resulted in a 438 per cent increase in the arrests that are coming from those interactions. That's 5,641 people. Whilst we've been doing these extra stop and searches, we haven't seen a noticeable diminution in outcomes. So we're still about 20 per cent of all stop and search encounters results in a positive outcome.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson during an interview with the M.E.N. -Credit:Gary Oakley/Manchester Evening News
Chief Constable Stephen Watson during an interview with the M.E.N. -Credit:Gary Oakley/Manchester Evening News

"We've seen no increase in complaints and we've seen that massive increase in arrests."

He added: "It points to the fact that our officers are performing very professionally in a really focussed way. A lot of people say it doesn't work. There's no factual evidence that it links to reduced crime. All I'm here to say is look I cannot definitely link stop and search to reducing crime, but I do know with 36 years' experience if you don't operate pro-actively as a force bad things happen."

He said he believed the increase in stop and search has led to a 'very significant reduction' in shootings, a fall in robberies by 11.2 per cent, and he also argued an increase in arrests resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in murders and a 6.6 per cent reduction in reports of domestic abuse. He pointed to a 27 per cent reduction in people presenting to hospital A&E departments with knife injuries.

He said: "The point I'm making is that I'm not that hung up on the strength of the academic linkage between this and that. I just think ultimately if a force is proactive and it's on the front foot and it's doing what the public pay us to do, good things happen."

Asked if he had felt any 'pushback' from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham or anyone else over the increased use of stop and search, he said: "I would say no from the public, the people who matter, no. There are elements who are concerned that stop and search reveals elements of disproportionality. Stop and search is applied disproportionately to ethnic minorities for example and people can be really concerned about that, and I understand why they might be.

"However, it seems to me that it's a mistake to simply jump upon any disproportionality and to assert that therefore the power is somewhat illegitimate. If disproportionality were totally important, we'd stop and search more women for example. We'd stop and search more older men. For the most part we don't stop that many women. We don't stop that many people who are not in the 16 to 24 bracket. Why? Because these are not the people that are committing crime. So you can't have your cake and eat it.

"You can't say you must be proportionate in all things because if that were true, we would be stopping more women. We would be stopping more older people. We'd be stopping more Chinese people. Fundamentally, what you've got to look at is are we deploying the tactic lawfully, respectfully and in accordance with targeted policing operations because we are trying to deal with a problem.

The chief constable was asked if there had been any 'pushback' from Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham -Credit:Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News
The chief constable was asked if there had been any 'pushback' from Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham -Credit:Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News

"And if disproportionality is revealed, we need to understand it. We can't be complacent about it because we need to satisfy ourselves that it's not being deployed in the case of ethnic minorities for example in a racist way. But some disproportionality is not a reflection of it being poorly deployed. It is a reflection of the realities on our grounds.

"We know that for example in Manchester young black men are more likely frankly to be the victims of stabbings. They are also more likely to be the perpetrators of stabbings. So if we're trying to deal with knife-enabled stabbings, we are going to stop and search amongst other people young black men.

"Ultimately, it just seems to me that at it's heart this needs to be about lawful, proportionate and respectful. That's what it's all about. Where you get complaints, it's where officers conduct themselves in a don't-care-ish unprofessional fashion, and the evidence would indicate that out officers are doing a really good job."