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Racial bias in policing: police stop-and-searches in England and Wales
Stop-and-search is a police power to stop, question, and search a person who is suspected of doing something illegal. Police officers in Britain have the power to stop and search individuals, and any vehicles in which they may be travelling, under a range of legislation including section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, section 60 the Criminal Justice and Public Order (CJPO) Act 1994, and section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.1 Section 1 of the PACE Act allows a police officer to stop and search a person or vehicle suspected of carrying stolen or prohibited items. Section 60 of the CJPO Act allows a police officer of the rank of inspector or above to issue written authorisation for the stop and search of persons and vehicles if there are reasonable grounds for believing that incidents involving serious violence may occur or that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons without good reason.2 Until July 2010, section 44 of the Terrorism Act allowed the police to stop and search persons and vehicles for items that might be used in terrorist activities whether or not there were reasonable grounds to suspect the presence of such items.3 According to data released by the UK government, in 2017-18, the latest year for which figures are available, there were a total of 277,378 stop-and-search (hereafter simply, stops) incidents in England and Wales (hereafter, E&W), down from 299,228 in the previous year.4
Since 1992, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in Britain, in compliance with the requirement under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to outlaw unlawful discrimination and promote race equality and good race relations, has published information on the ethnicity of persons “in contact” with the criminal justice system (CJS) in which “contact” includes being stopped by the police. The person being stopped is usually asked for their ethnicity, although the circumstances in which this information is obtained may affect its accuracy: when there is doubt or ambiguity about the ethnicity of a person, it is classified as “other”.
These MoJ data provide information on stops carried out in 42 Police Areas (hereafter, Areas) in each of the 12 years between the financial years
2006-07 and 2017-18.5 The stops were recorded according to the ethnicity of the person stopped. Sixteen ethnicities were distinguished (British White, Irish White, Other White, Black African, Black Caribbean, Other Black, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Mixed: White/Asian, Mixed: White/ Black African, Mixed: White/Black Caribbean, Mixed: White/Other, Chinese, Other ethnic). The number of stops for each ethnicity in an Area, in a particular year, were published alongside the size of the population of that ethnicity. From this, one could compute the stop rate per 1,000 persons for each ethnicity in each Area for each year of the period between 2006-07 and 2017-18.
The hypothesis that this chapter seeks to scrutinise suggests that, with respect of police stops, ethnic minority groups face two possible disadvantages vis-a-vis the ethnic majority of British Whites: (1) persons belonging to ethnic minorities, in particular the non-White ethnic minorities, may have been victims of racial bias by the police who, in selecting persons for stops, might have disproportionately targeted non-White ethnic minorities and (2) persons from ethnic minorities - again, in particular the non-White ethnic minorities - lived disproportionately in Areas which conducted a large number of stops relative to the Area population. Consequently, the stop rate for ethnic minorities - defined as the number of stops per 1,000 of the ethnic population - could be high because, relative to British Whites, persons from ethnic minorities lived in Areas in which the overall stop rate - defined as the number of stops per 1,000 of the Area’s population - was high.
This idea may be made more explicit by observing, as Table 5.1 shows, that in the financial year 2017/18, the stop rate for British Whites was 3 (i.e., 3 stops per 1,000 of the population) in contrast to, say, stop rates of 19 for Black Africans, 26 for Black Caribbeans, 13 for Bangladeshis, and 7 for Pakistanis. Although these rates for 2017-18 were substantially lower than those for 2009-10 (17, 73, 153, 70, and 38 for, respectively, British Whites, Black Africans, Black Caribbeans, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis), the interethnic disparity in stop rates has not changed greatly: Black Africans were four times more likely to be stopped than British Whites in 2009-10 and six times more likely in 2017-18; Black Caribbeans were nine times more likely to be stopped than British Whites in 2009-10 and in 2017-18; Bangladeshis were four times more likely to be stopped than British Whites in 2009-10 and in 2017-18; and Pakistanis were twice as likely to be stopped as British Whites in 2009-10 and in 2017-18. Of the main non-White ethnic minorities distinguished in Table 5.1, only Indians had the same stop rate and Chinese had a lower rate, compared to British Whites.
The numbers reported in Table 5.1 should be considered alongside those in Table 5.2 which shows the overall stop rates for the 42 Areas in E&W.6 The most noticeable feature of these results is that the (London) Metropolitan Area - which, with more than 31,000 officers, is the largest police force in E&W - had an average stop rate of 48 over the period 2006-07
Source: Own calculations from www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and-the-law/policing/stop-and-search/latest.
Note: BRW = British White; 1RW = Irish White; OTW = Other White; BAF = Black African; BCB = Black Caribbean; OTB = Other Black; IND = Indian; BNG = Bangladeshi; PAK = Pakistani; OAS = Other Asian; W/A = Mixed: White Asian; W/AF = Mixed: White Black African; W/CB = Mixed: White Black Caribbean; W/OT = Mixed: White Other; CHN = Chinese; OTH = Other.
Table 5.2 Stops per 1,000 of the population by Police Area in England and Wales
Source: Own calculations from www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and- the-law/policing/stop-and-search/latest.
to 2017-18 and a rate of 16 in 2017-18; this was considerably higher than the rates in the next five largest police forces in E&W: West Midlands and Greater Manchester (each with more than 6,000 officers), West Yorkshire (5,000 officers), Thames Valley (4,000 officers), and Merseyside (3,500 officers).7 Indeed, in 2017-18, the stop rate for the Metropolitan Area (16/1,000) was twice as high as that of the next highest rate of 7/1,000 in Merseyside. Therefore, just as a rising tide lifts all boats, persons living in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Area should, regardless of their ethnicity, expect on average to be subject to a larger number of stops than those living in, say, West Yorkshire. As a corollary, ethnic groups with a disproportionate presence in the Metropolitan Area should, purely by virtue of this fact, expect to be subject to a larger number of stops than groups with a smaller Metropolitan presence.
The final piece of this jigsaw is to note that in 2017-18, on the basis of UK government statistics, 2.7% of British Whites, 19.3% of Black Africans and Black Caribbeans, 12.8% of Indians, 16.5% of Bangladeshis, and 6.6% of Pakistanis lived under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Area. There is, therefore, prima facie evidence that part of the reason why people from certain ethnic minorities in E&W were stopped with greater frequency than British Whites is that they were disproportionately located in the “high stop” Metropolitan Area.
This idea that the stop rate of non-White ethnic minorities was determined by a combination of racial bias and Area presence is made explicit using an analytical model set out in the following section. This model decomposes the overall stop rate in E&W into two parts: a part due to racial bias and a part due to the nature of the distribution of the groups across the Areas. Empirical flesh is then put on the bones of this model using the UK government’s stop data with respect to ethnic groups in E&W discussed earlier.