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‘I would reform stop and search as the city’s mayor’

New challenger to Sadiq Khan says trust in the police needs restoring

23 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Luisa Porritt by the River Thames this week

A NEW challenger to London Mayor Sadiq Khan says she will try and rebuild trust between young people and the police by ending “suspicionless stop and search”.

Luisa Porritt. a former MEP, spoke to the Tribune after she was confirmed as the Liberal Democrats’ mayoral candidate last week and said a change of strategy was needed to deal with knife crime.

After a series of fatal stabbings, including attacks in Islington, Mr Khan has often been challenged on how he will end the violence.

Ms Porritt said she wanted to see more neighbourhood officers fixed to wards, but also a change in the police’s relationship with the community.

“If police are embedded in local communities, there is more trust between them and those communities. As we’ve seen with everything that’s happened in the last few months of the Black Lives Matter movement that trust is at an all-time low and needs to be rectified,” she told the Tribune.

“You can still have intelligence-led stop and search, but what we’ve seen increasing under this mayor [Mr Khan] is the use of suspicionless stop and search and Section 60 orders.”

The orders allow police to search anybody within a set geographical area without giving a reason, usually over a 24 or 48-hour period.

Ms Porritt, a councillor in Camden, said: “In the first place, they’re not that helpful, because they’re broadly reactive. Then police officers are able to stop and search people without giving a reason, and that’s where the breakdown of trust comes from. So I would get rid of that if I was mayor or I would at least be having conversations with the commissioner and saying, actually, I think this is doing more harm than good.”

Asked how “intelligence” would be defined in an intelligence-led stop, and if this could include a vague description of a young man, she said: “If they have a description that fits, they have the right to stop that person, but then it’s really important to explain that well and that they do it in an empathetic way.”

She added: “It’s also really important that there is an understanding of unconscious bias and the reasons why some people from some communities might be more likely to be stopped than others.

“Unconscious bias training is effective. We’ve had it as councillors. I think you can never stop having that kind of training throughout your life because it’s something we all carry if we’re not from ethnic minorities ourselves.”

Asked if she agreed with the protesters who believe the Met police is institutionally racist, Ms Porritt said: “It’s 20 years since the MacPherson report. Parliament has been looking at it again. I think it’s right that the Met, as an institution, looks at what other work can be done.”

But she added: “This is not something specific to the police, it applies to all organisations. We can all improve, and that’s going to be partly how we address systemic racism.”

Ending suspicionless stops is one of the stances which is likely to set her apart from Mr Khan and Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate at next year’s scheduled elections.

Sian Berry is standing for the Greens.

Ms Porritt is taking on the Lib Dem baton from Siobhan Benita, who pulled out after the election was postponed in May due to Covid-19.

She had joined the party in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum result. The party’s surging results in London at the European elections last year – on an unadulterated “Stop Brexit” ticket – saw her become an MEP, but the Lib Dems did not make new inroads at December’s general election with a similar message.

So, if she was mayor, would she be a high-profile endorser of a “rejoin” campaign?

Ms Porritt, a former journalist, warned that the scrutiny of the UK’s divorce from the union was not over yet, as “we’re staring down the barrel of a hard Brexit”.

But she added: “It’s a question of timing. London will always be a pro-European city and we’re always going to be internationalist and outward-looking.

“But there’s no mechanism to go back into the EU right now. I wish there was, but we are where we are.

“I think if there’s a point at which there’s an obvious change in the public mood, then it’s something we should revisit. But I don’t see it happening any time soon.”

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