Stop and search use by Welsh police forces increased by nearly thirty per  cent last year, according to new Home Office data, with most finding nothing.

Just 10 per cent of searches resulted in arrest, suggesting officers may have been stopping people without reasonable justification.

The powers were disproportionately used against people of colour in Wales, with Black people at least five times more likely to be searched than white people.

Despite these figures, North Wales Police says that stop and search is “a valuable tool to tackle crime and prevent offences being committed.”

The Home Office “Police Powers and Procedures” data, which, among other powers, measures the use of police stop and search against factors such as age, gender and ethnicity, was released a month later than usual.

The National Wales: Home Secretary Priti Patel has been harshly criticised by human rights groups over her planned crackdown on protestors (Source: PA)Home Secretary Priti Patel has been harshly criticised by human rights groups over her planned crackdown on protestors (Source: PA)

Critics, such as human rights group Liberty, suggested that the department was attempting to avoid scrutiny while the government pushes through its controversial Policing and Nationality and Borders Bills – though the Home Office says the delay was down to “data quality issues”.

The Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently passing through the House of Lords, will further expand police stop and search powers.

THE LAW: WHEN CAN POLICE USE STOP AND SEARCH?

Police officers can stop and search members of the public under a number of different laws – most commonly under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984.

Section 1 of PACE enables police to carry out a search when they have “reasonable grounds for suspicion” that a person is in possession of stolen goods, a weapon and/or other prohibited items – such as spray paint that could be used for graffiti, or some kinds of firework.

The Misuse of Drugs Act grants police the same power where they suspect someone of carrying drugs, and these searches are counted with PACE searches in Home Office data.

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When an authorisation is made by a senior police officer under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, however, police can stop and search people without those “reasonable grounds for suspicion”.

The authorisation will apply to a specific area, normally lasting for 24 hours - but it can be extended.

Section 60 orders can be made when an officer “reasonably believes” that serious violence may take place in an area, that a weapon used in a previous incident of serious violence is being carried in the area, or that people are carrying weapons “without good reason” in the area.

THE DATA

A total of 31,837 searches under PACE were carried out in Wales between April 2020 and March 2021, up by more than 7,000 from 2019.

Of these searches, just 10 per cent resulted in arrest, compared with 11 per cent in England. This “success” rate marked a two per cent decrease from the previous year.

Research by the UK government’s own Criminal Justice Inspectorate suggests that low arrest rates for PACE searches can mean police officers are stopping people on weak or unreasonable grounds.

A report by the body from February this year found that searches conducted on “unreasonable grounds” typically had a find rate of 14 per cent – notably, this is still higher than the find rate recorded in Wales over the past two years.

People of colour in Wales were disproportionately targeted by police in 2020, at a higher rate than in 2019.

This pattern was most severe in the Gwent Police force area, where Black and Minority Ethnic people were nearly four times more likely to be stopped than white people.

Over the same period, 26 searches under Section 60 took place. All were carried out by South Wales Police, and a little under half of the people searched were BAME. Just one search resulted in arrest.

The number of Section 60 searches significantly decreased between 2019 and 2020. It’s likely that lockdown conditions in 2020 played a role in this trend.

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said this week: “We all want our communities to be safe, and to live without fear of harassment and discrimination.

“Police have overused and abused stop and search powers, making life harder and more dangerous for certain communities, and particularly Black men.

“These statistics reinforce just how alarming the Government’s plans to expand stop and search powers are.

“Former police leaders, as well as community and social workers, have all warned that new and increased stop and search powers will put young people at risk.

“Rather than continuing to put people in danger, the Government must scrap the [Policing] Bill, roll back police powers and listen to the meaningful discussions about alternative ways to keep communities safe.”

Habib Kadiri, Research and Policy Manager at StopWatch UK, a group that campaigns for “fair and accountable” policing, said: “[The] figures prove once again that the vast majority of stop and searches cause more problems than they solve.

“What is exceptional is how racial disparities persisted even during a global pandemic, proving that the police never stopped working tirelessly to over-police people of colour.

“We simply would not accept this of any other emergency service profession. The police must do better.”

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However, Helen Corcoran, Local Policing Services Superintendent for North Wales Police, told The National that while the force understands the “potential negative impact” the powers can have on communities, it considers stop and search powers “a valuable tool” to tackle and prevent crime.

“This reflects the force’s commitment to tackle County Lines, acquisitive crime - which includes burglary, robbery and vehicle crime - and knife crime,” she added.

“North Wales Police works closely with our community groups, including representatives from our BAME community to monitor and scrutinise the Force’s use of stop search, including disproportionality.

“Members of our community groups have recently been involved in the training of our officers in the use of stop search.”

Ian Roberts, Temporary Assistant Chief Constable for Gwent Police, said: “Our officers receive training to ensure the proportionate use of powers, including stop and search, and must always have reasonable grounds to do so.

“All stop and searches are intelligence-led. We monitor figures regularly, working with our communities and the independent advisory group (IAG) to ensure transparency and effective learning.

“We regularly carry out targeted enforcement operations such as Operation Sceptre, which aims to remove dangerous weapons from our streets and reduce knife crime across Gwent.

“We often see an increase in stop and search during these operations as we continue our efforts to keep our communities safe.”

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