Black people in Sussex 12 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police, figures show

Sussex Police has been accused of ‘institutional racism’ after figures showed black people were overwhelmingly more likely to be stopped and searched than people of other ethnicities.

Friday, 19th June 2020, 1:58 pm
More than 10,000 people took to the streets of Brighton in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

Latest figures from Sussex Police show that around 12 out of every 1,000 people in Sussex of black or black British descent were stopped and searched between November, 2019, and January, 2020.

Only around one in every 1,000 people from other ethnic groups – defined by police as Asian or Asian British, white, mixed and Chinese or other ethnic group – were stopped and searched.

Black people make up less than one per cent of the population of Sussex, but account for almost 10 per cent of searches.

Katrina Ffrench is the chief executive of StopWatch, a coalition of academics, lawyers, policy experts and members of impacted communities that works to promote fair and accountable policing.

She said the figures were ‘alarming’, but not surprising.

“Unfortunately, black people are disproportionately impacted by policing,” she said. “We are keen to understand what those encounters were like and whether people were treated with the dignity and respect that they expect from a public service.”

She said that ‘weaker grounds’ were often used to stop and search black people than with their white counterparts, adding: “This an indication of institutional racism.”

The figures come amid global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which was formed to campaign against police brutality in the wake of killings of unarmed black people by police.

Founded in 2013 after the shooting of American Trayvon Martin, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in police custody last month brought more widespread awareness to the cause and sparked protests all over the world.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sussex over the weekend of June 13 to support the movement.

A statement released earlier this month by the heads of policing in the UK pledged to ‘tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it’.

A Sussex Police spokesman said the force recognised that disproportionality in the use of stop and search was an issue for policing locally and nationally.

“We understand the significance of this for building trust within communities that we serve and actively seek to engage them on a regular basis in reviewing our approach to this,” said the spokesman.

“For this reason we have an external and independently chaired Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel, with members of the public examining reports, body-worn video and other data to provide transparent and independent quality assurance. The arrangements and data are also reviewed by the Legitimacy and Ethics Board, and independently assessed by HMICFRS, who assess the effectiveness and efficiency of forces in the public interest.

“We are determined to ensure that each interaction we have with a member of the public is conducted fairly, lawfully and ethically.”

Officers have the power to stop and search people if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect they are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that could be used to commit a crime.

The police spokesman said the force was examining its stop and search process alongside the use of other policing powers to better understand outcomes.

Where disproportionality cannot be explained, the spokesman said, the force would reform its processes.

Of the 1,963 stops and searches to have taken place between November and January, 72 per cent resulted in no action and 18 per cent resulted in an arrest.

The police spokesman added: “Working to the best use of the stop-and-search scheme we are ensuring greater transparency, accountability and community involvement. Every stop-and-search record is assessed, with additional dip checks to seek to ensure it is justified and likely to have a positive outcome in reducing crime and protecting the vulnerable.

“We are committed to building on our current engagement with local BAME communities and also to ensuring that our officers have the best possible training on the legitimate use of powers. Over the last year all officers have had refreshed training in the legitimate and fair use of stop and search as well as a practical input on its application. Plans are now in place for further training programmes to ensure fair and effective applications of policing powers.

“Our Rewind campaign, aimed at younger people and designed by a local college, is promoted and available on the Sussex Police website to inform the public of their rights when stopped by police. For more information, see https://www.sussex.police.uk/police-forces/sussex-police/areas/au/about-us/stop-and-search/.

“If people would like to be involved in the Stop and Search Scrutiny panel, they can email [email protected] or visit our website for more information: https://www.sussex.police.uk/police-forces/sussex-police/areas/au/about-us/stop-and-search/.”