West Yorkshire search stats prompt review call

Arthur France, chairman of the Leeds West Indian Carnival.
Arthur France, chairman of the Leeds West Indian Carnival.
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Calls have been made for a review of police stop and search powers after new figures revealed black people in West Yorkshire are five times more likely than white people to be targeted.

West Yorkshire Police officers carried out 42,000 stop-and-searches in the 12 months to August.

While only eight of every 1,000 white people were stopped and searched, 42 out of every 1,000 black people came in for the same treatment.

The statistics have prompted accusations of racism – a claim refuted by the force, which said most stop-and-searches were carried out in deprived areas where there were higher numbers of ethnic minorities.

Jon Christopher, vice chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, denied police were racist.

But he added: “If the figures stand up then we have to look at procedure and consider a review of the stop and search policy.

“It’s a useful power, but I think it can be used over-zealously because it is looked upon as a key performance indicator. If your figures are down, questions are likely to get asked.”

Police have the right to stop and search people on the street if they have suspicions about drugs, evidence of criminal activity, potential disorder or terrorism.

The vast majority of stop-and-searches between September last year and August this year were carried out under two pieces of legislation - the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) section of the Criminal Justice Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Under PACE black people were about four times more likely to be stopped and searched, while Asian people were about as likely to be stopped as white people.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act black people were seven times more likely - and Asian people nearly four times more likely - than white people to be stopped.

And yet the proportion of people who were arrested as a result of being searched was roughly the same, no matter what their ethnicity.

Arthur France MBE, chairman of the organising committee for the annual Chapeltown Carnival in Leeds, said: “It’s plain racism, pure and simple.

“It has always been an issue – you are more likely to be stopped and searched if you’re black. It has changed and maybe got better, but not as much as it should have.”

In June this year the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report showing some police forces could not explain why people from particular ethnic groups had been stopped and search more often than others.

A commission spokeswoman said West Yorkshire’s figures suggested a pattern of “unproductive drug searches”, which contributed to race disproportionality.

“The force could therefore usefully re-examine policy and practice,” she added.

West Yorkshire Police said significant steps had been taken following the 1999 Macpherson Report, which branded the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist”.

A spokesman said: “Stop and search powers are an effective tool in day to day operational policing, helping us to prevent and detect crime and gather important intelligence to ensure our policing plans focus on the issues that are important to the communities we serve.

“The force has carried out extensive research into the patterns of stop and search activity.

“This confirms that police officers tend to be deployed into the more deprived areas of our towns and cities which suffer from a higher degree of social problems and crime. These also tend to include areas which have higher concentrations of ethnic minority communities.”

The Home Office said stop and search was a “vital tool” in the fight against crime, particularly knife crime, but should not be used to measure officers’ performance.