Leading Article: Politicians must stop and think before joining this reactionary bidding war

Share
Related Topics

A week ago, we learned that there has been a sharp drop in the number of offences reported to the police in England and Wales. Domestic burglaries are down by 8 per cent on last year. Criminal damage is 11 per cent lower. There has even been an 8 per cent fall in violent attacks and a 9 per cent reduction in sexual offences. The risk of becoming a victim of crime is now, apparently, at its lowest for more than a quarter of a century.

But much of the media and our politicians have ignored this statistical evidence and reacted instead as if crime rates have reached an all-time high. In an illiberal stampede, all three parties have come out in favour of increasing the police powers of "stop and search". An unseemly bidding war has broken out between the Government and the Conservatives. And, shamefully, even the Liberal Democrats have joined the fray.

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, has specifically attacked the bureaucracy involved, singling out the "foot long" form that police officers are required to fill in when they stop someone. But there is a good reason why these forms exist. The 1999 Macpherson report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence identified "institutional racism" in the police and saw the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities by officers in stop and search as one of the expressions of this. Macpherson specifically recommended that the police should make a record of each stop to force them to justify their behaviour and act as a curb on racist policing.

Of course, these safeguards have already been undermined. The 2000 Terrorism Act allows unrecorded stop and search in areas deemed at particular risk of attack. The number of Asians stopped and searched has risen threefold since the 11 September terror attacks. And a report by the Metropolitan Police Authority in 2004 found that black people are still four times more likely to be stopped than white people. If anything, the Government should be reigning in the police on stop and search. Instead, ministers seem determined to resurrect the old "sus" laws, which were blamed by Lord Scarman, in his 1981 report, for helping to spark the Brixton riots.

The tactic cannot even be defended as an effective tool for preventing crime and terrorism. There is no evidence that it does anything but damage community relations. There have been no reports of a terrorism plot being foiled by stop-and-search tactics. Nor is there any correlation between crime rates and police use of the technique.

It is not just stop and search. There is a growing reactionary tendency in Westminster. A report by the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, this week re-emphasised that our prisons are grossly overcrowded. Ms Owers also slammed poorly thought-through criminal justice legislation pushed through by ministers. New prisons, she stressed, are not the answer. But the Government is not listening. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced this week that the building of several new "Titan" prisons will go ahead. Mr Straw also spoke of "launching a competition" to provide a new prison ship. Despite the Home Secretary's promises to improve education in prisons, the mentality is still to lock as many people up as possible. It is an attitude shared by the Conservative Party.

Fear of crime in Britain has reached fever pitch, stoked by irresponsible cheerleaders in the media and cowardly politicians, afraid to articulate the real picture on crime and too timid to propose progressive solutions to the problems that do exist in our society. As always, the victims of this reactionary spasm will be those least able to defend themselves.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice