Ending stop and search was a disaster for black kids

Zombie knives
Zombie knives

The Government’s announcement this week that it will proactively encourage police to use stop and search is welcome. In London, where Sadiq Khan has called for the Met to reduce the use of stop and search, the consequences have been desperate – for levels of violent crime, the number of dangerous weapons on our streets, and the rate of young people tragically murdered.

The effects are too devastating to be playing politics over, and my aim here is not to simply criticise the Mayor of London or his record on crime. Instead, we need to come together and be clear on a simple point: done right, stop and search works. It is not the only tool we have, but it is an effective one.

There is, of course, work to do – police services need to make a proactive effort to bring every community with them. People of all backgrounds must feel that stop and search is an asset to help keep their community safe, rather than a method of harassment used to target them. We must address concerns that stop and search is used to discriminate and over-police, demonstrating that it is a positive force for good.

The case for stop and search has never been clearer. Having effectively removed it as a tool from police in London, we are now seeing the consequences play out on our streets. Statistics show that knife crime has reached a record high in London, increasing by 20 per cent in the last year alone. At the same time, the use of stop and search across the capital has dropped by 44 per cent in the past two years, and is now at its lowest level since 2018.

The Met themselves now recognise this reduction was a mistake, with Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley suggesting in an interview last month that stop and search “does work”, and that the force will look to increase its use over coming months.

We must also back our police services on this – if an officer has a reasonable suspicion that someone may be carrying a dangerous weapon, they must be able to have the confidence to search that individual, without fear of being reprimanded.

We have found ourselves in a dangerous situation which sees officers who are following their training, doing the right thing and lawfully checking for weapons ending up plastered across social media, lambasted by armchair critics and potentially facing disciplinary action.

Those who believe that reducing the use of stop and search has benefitted black communities are fundamentally wrong. When it is predominantly young black men being murdered as a result of the violence that follows, how can black communities possibly be better off?

Black men are now nine times more likely to be murdered. When you don’t have stop and search as a tool for removal, alongside other measures, increasingly dangerous weapons are going to stay on our streets. When you don’t have the risk of being caught carrying a dangerous weapon and being punished, young men will be emboldened to carry them.

When you have more weapons on the street and more young men carrying them, you will see more crime, more gang violence and more senseless deaths. Tragically, that is exactly what we are seeing across London, and something has to change.

This increase in violence and gang activity will ultimately send more young black men down the wrong path in life, creating a vicious cycle of crime and heartbreak for the families of victims. As a youth worker, I saw first-hand how easily this can happen.

Through my work in this area, every week I am contacted by grieving parents who have lost their child to knife crime. Every single one asks me why we are not taking these weapons off the streets.

The reality is that we can do this, and we can stop these weapons from being carried in the first place. Stop and search is as much about a deterrent as its use in practice – those who are tempted to carry a knife or weapon on our streets and in our communities must know that they will be stopped, they will be searched and they will be caught.

By working hard to build trust between police and local communities of all backgrounds, we can show that stop and search, when used properly, is a powerful force for good.

Listen to Shaun Bailey discuss this subject on The Daily T on the audio player in this article, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.