Police `alienating Asians' by aggressive tactics

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The Independent Online
A GENERATION of young Asians is in danger of being criminalised and alienated because of "aggressive" and unlawful police search tactics, according to a report published yesterday.

The use of stop-and-search powers to break up groups of Asian teenagers as a form of "social control" and "harassment" was also criticised by the Scotland Yard-funded study. The author of the report warned that unless changes are made nationally there is a risk of repeating the resentment and hatred that was behind the 1981 race riots in Brixton, south London.

Marian FitzGerald blamed much of the problem on police officers arresting Asian men for smoking cannabis. She said unemployed young Asian men living in overcrowded conditions were more likely to congregate in groups in public spaces, making them increasingly "available" to be searched. She controversially suggested that in future officers should destroy any cannabis found but only give the offender an on-the-spot informal warning, an idea the Metropolitan Police said was worth debating. The report, Searches in London, was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police after the furore surrounding the use of stop and search, particularly against racial minorities, following complaints that they are disproportionately targeted.

Dr FitzGerald, a former Home Office official, said that the most significant finding of her research, which included 700 incidents of stop and search in London and questioning 15 and 16-year-olds, was the risk of alienating Asian youths. Her report concludes: "Numerous findings throughout the study highlight the risk that searches may begin to criminalise young Asian men suffering high levels of unemployment and living in very overcrowded conditions.... There is an obvious danger that an aggressive police approach to these searches increasingly risks alienating young people from this first British-born generation, along with their peers and the cohorts following on behind them."

The research showed that Asians stopped and searched were likely to be younger than other suspects, less likely to have a criminal record and were more likely to be picked up in groups. Dr FitzGerald said: "We are talking about a group of young people who are starting to form their impression of the police. They are starting to get criminalised." She argued that the problem of stop and search was much worse outside London and that the Met is "way ahead of the game" compared with most other forces. Heavy- handed police tactics were blamed for the 1995 riots in Bradford. The Police Complaints Authority found that mass disturbances started after police tried to stop young Asians playing football on a piece of waste ground.

On the general use of stop- and-search tactics the report notes: "Where people already have criminal records, or are believed to be associating with criminals, they may be targeted for searching as a way of gaining intelligence and/or simply in order to disrupt their activities. "These are not legitimate grounds for... searches and could be construed as harassment."

It found that there was a direct relationship between the decline in police searches and a rise in crime in the capital.