'Stop and search' is a crude tactic that fuels resentment

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The Independent Online

The Home Office minister Hazel Blears has drawn a barrage of criticism from Muslim leaders for stating that people of "Islamic appearance" are likely to be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public.

The Home Office minister Hazel Blears has drawn a barrage of criticism from Muslim leaders for stating that people of "Islamic appearance" are likely to be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public.

Ms Blears might have anticipated that her remarks, at a time when the Government is pushing through its controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill, and in the run-up to a general election, would be seen as provocative. She was, however, speaking the truth. It is simply the reality that disproportionate numbers of Muslims will be affected if stop and search policies are concentrated on suspected Islamic extremists. To suggest, as some have done, that Ms Blears was seeking to "demonise" Muslims, or to legitimise racist, Islamophobic behaviour is unfair.

Where Ms Blears and her government colleagues deserve to be criticised is for failing to acknowledge that stop and search as a policing technique is both malign, in terms of community relations because it causes so much resentment, and an utterly ineffective way of catching suspected terrorists. Experience has shown that the tactic achieves little beyond alienating minorities because it is open to abuse by overzealous or prejudiced police. As far back as 1981 stop and search was officially identified as one of the factors that triggered the Brixton riots. Yet, blacks and Asians are increasingly being stopped and searched under powers granted to police by the 2000 Terror Act.

Some might argue that alienating minorities is a price worth paying if the end result enhances national security. But stopping random members of the public is a crude instrument that not only fails to disrupt terrorist activity but risks driving more people into the embrace of the extremists who really are plotting terrorist atrocities.

It is encouraging that Ms Blears has shown awareness of the harassment blameless Muslims are facing. She would do even better to order a review of the stop and search principle, and a suspension of its practice. Police should concentrate resources on more effective techniques of combating the terror threat.

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