Priti Patel makes it easier for police to use controversial stop and search powers

Home secretary says it will be ‘easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives’

Zaina Alibhai
Monday 16 May 2022 00:06
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<p>The move coincides with the launch of Operation Sceptre, a week of action from every police force in England and Wales to combat knife crime</p>

The move coincides with the launch of Operation Sceptre, a week of action from every police force in England and Wales to combat knife crime

Priti Patel is lifting restrictions placed on police in the use of controversial stop-and-search powers as part of the government’s strategy to tackle violent crime.

The new measures will see officers able to stop people without suspicion in areas where serious violence “may” occur, rather than “will” occur, a loosening of the guidelines which the government claims will help prevent knife crime.

In a letter sent to police forces on Monday, the home secretary will set out how restrictions on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which have limited when officers could use stop and search and have been in place since 2014, will be removed.

Ms Patel’s initial plan to remove restrictions placed on section 60 searches was met with criticism, leading her to backtrack on the plan, although she is now pressing ahead with it.

The government said officers will have “full operational flexibility” to “rid the streets of dangerous weapons and save lives”.

But campaigners have argued the relaxation of rules will negatively impact certain sections of society, with black people 14 times more likely to be searched under section 60 than white people.

Official statistics show in the year to March, only 4 per cent of stop and searches under the power resulted in an arrest, and only 0.8 per cent of people searched were found to be carrying a weapon.

The government said since 2019, when a trial relaxation of restrictions took place, extended stop and search powers led to “50,000 deadly knives and offensive weapons” being confiscated and 150,000 arrests being made.

As well as the requirement for reasonable grounds being erased, the changes will see the rank of officer who can extend a section 60 authorisation lowered from senior officer to superintendent or above, with the implementation period also extended from 39 hours to 48 hours.

Section 60 will also be able to remain in place, initially without an extension, for longer period of time – from 15 hours to 24 hours.

Police will also no longer need to publicly communicate when the order will be in place in advance.

Ms Patel said: “The devastating impact of knife crime on families who have lost their loved one is unbearable. No one should have to endure the pain and suffering of the victims of these appalling crimes and we have a responsibility to them to do everything in our power to prevent future tragedies.

“Since 2019, the police have removed over 50,000 knives and offensive weapons from our streets and in the two years to March 2021, over 150,000 arrests were made following stop and search, preventing thousands of possible fatal injuries.

“I stand wholeheartedly behind the police so that they can build on their work to drive down knife crime by making it easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives.”

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