Met extends powers to stop and search youths
Police officers in London were last night using powers that allow them to stop and search youths without having reasonable suspicion in an attempt to stem the tide of stabbing deaths on the capital's streets. Scotland Yard said the "in your face policing" risked stoking community tensions but believes that the "horrendous" weekend of murders and stabbings of young people will prompt people to back the tougher measures.
The new tactics were announced as police patrols began stopping and searching youths without suspicion. Officers are also using handheld detectors to search for knives and other weapons.
The decision to take extra powers carries risks for the police. Stop and search disproportionately hits Afro-Caribbean communities by up to 27 times for stops in which officers do not have to have reasonable suspicion to search someone. Police are given such powers under section 60 of the 1994 Public Order Act.
The announcement comes after a 72-hour period in which 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen was killed with a shard of glass on Saturday; a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were stabbed in a north London park on Sunday; and 22-year-old Steven Bigby was stabbed through the heart in Oxford Street on Monday. Police yesterday gave new details of that murder and said they were hunting four suspects who clashed with a group of three men, including Bigby. Two men aged 18 and 19 were last night arrested by police investigating the murder.
Yesterday the Metropolitan police's assistant commissioner, Tim Godwin, announced police would swamp areas to try and catch and deter youngsters with weapons. "The reason we are getting stabbings is significant numbers of people have weapons on them when they are getting into a row," he said, adding that the killings and stabbings over the weekend would sway people to support measures some will see as tough, and others as kneejerk.
Police said they would consult with communities. But Peter Herbert, a barrister and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees the force, attacked the plan. "It will undoubtedly lead to more stop and search, and more racist stop and searches where people are stopped on the basis of their appearance or ethnicity," he said. "The MPA was not consulted and it should have been. It is another example of policy being manufactured on the hoof for political expediency."
Areas around schools, transport hubs and pubs could be targeted by the search teams. Godwin said the measures would be intelligence-led. But he conceded it would be "invasive" and a "fairly big imposition" on young people in up to 10 inner London boroughs that will be targeted.
High-profile teenage killings over the past 12 months have pushed knife crime to the top of the political agenda but the true scale of the problem is difficult to assess. The Home Office will only begin to record knife crime separately from July, so the picture is unclear.
The British Crime Survey, based on the crime experiences of 40,000 people each year, suggests the problem has not worsened over the last 10 years. It suggests 8% of all violent incidents involve knives, a rate that has remained fixed for a decade or more. Robberies involving knives have fallen steadily during the same period.
But Home Office statistics show the number of murders involving a "sharp instrument" increased from 197 in 1996 to 258 in 2006-07. In London 27 teenagers were murdered last year and 13 have been killed so far this year. Boris Johnson, London's mayor, made the fight against teenage violence a central plank of his campaign.
Yesterday, in the wake of the most recent killing, he held a meeting with senior police officers and mayoral advisers. The focus on knife crime comes as new guidelines for magistrates suggested some knife offenders could be punished with a fine rather than prison.
14 May 2008