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More than 2,000 lockdown stop and searches – and just four arrests

Police say virus crisis has made ‘suspicious activity on the streets more visible' as number of searches in Islington almost doubles in three months

19 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Sheri Lawal, who chairs Islington’s Stop and Search Monitoring Group

A SURGE in the number of stop and searches across the borough during lockdown is under the microscope as more than 2,000 stops in three months led to only four arrests.

The number of searches in Islington has almost doubled in the past three months – March saw 622, and May had 1,234.

Of the 2,288 stop and searches in total over the three-month period, more than 80 per cent resulted in a No Further Action (NFA) decision, according to Met figures.

Police said this week that lockdown had made “suspicious activity on the streets more visible” so they could be “more proactive around preventing street-based violence and drug dealing”.

Beyond the four arrests, other outcomes include 13 “community resolutions” and 11 penalty charges.

Sheri Lawal, who chairs Islington’s Stop and Search Monitoring Group, has warned that increasing searches without “genuine” reasons will entrench resentment, especially in the black community which is disproportionately targeted.

She told the Tribune: “I think police officers have to be taught not to racially profile. They have to be taught to respect everybody because a lot of the problem is not so much the stop and search but the way the stop and search has been conducted.

Islington borough commander Raj Kohli

“There also has to be a genuine reason. A lawful genuine reason. What we are finding is that stop and searches are not always lawful. This is a problem. The encounter itself may be fine but should that person have been stopped and searched in the first place? It’s a big issue.”

The vast majority of people who have been stopped in the borough in the past year have been men between the ages of 15 to 29.

But the statistic shows people are almost four times more likely to be stopped if they are black.

Police are able to use “Section 60” powers across selected areas to stop anyone that officers feel have grounds for suspicion.

Ms Lawal said: “The main problem, especially for young black people, is that they say they don’t know why they are being stopped. We are looking at the figures and they seem very disproportionate.”

She added that there is a stigma against people joining the police in inner-city estates as the force is seen as the “oppressors” who are “harassing their people”.

This leads to officers being recruited from outside of London, who she said have their own “sub-conscious racial biases”.

Islington borough commander Raj Kohli said: “The ‘stay at home’ instruction in place in April and May in large part made suspicious activity on the streets more visible, this meant that the Met has been even more proactive around preventing street-based violence and drug dealing. There have also been more officers assigned to frontline duties, and this has resulted in an increase in the use of stop and search.

“In Islington specifically, the majority of the most recent Section 60s are the result of intelligence-led work to stop violence escalating in the borough. Likewise, our targeted stop and search activity has made Islington one of the best performing boroughs in terms of all knife-related activity.

“In terms of stop and search more generally, we know that on its own it is not the solution to the unacceptable violence we have seen over the past few years. However, it is designed to stop the deaths of young people while we, as a society, try and understand why young people commit such acts.”

The borough commander has previously acknowledged the disproportionate number of BAME people who are searched.

“I do not underestimate the impact that the use of those powers has on communities and individuals and acknowledge that historically stop and search has caused concerns across those communities,” he said.

“I am happy to look into any stop and search that is thought to have been carried out and doesn’t meet these standards. I have also committed to meet with any young person, albeit virtually at the moment, to discuss any issue relating to stop and search. I know that this is something that Sheri is actively working to achieve.”

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