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Fireworks, guns and false alarms: What a year of stop and search in Redbridge looks like

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 January 2020

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Police have doubled down on the use of stop and search across London. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

The number of people subjected to on-the-spot searches in Redbridge has more than tripled in a year.

According to Metropolitan Police data, officers used their powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1989 to search people 6,701 times in Redbridge in 2019 - a huge rise on the 2,141 searches the year before.

In more than 76 per cent of cases police found nothing of interest on the person who was searched, and no further action was taken.

But 676, or 10.3 per cent of searches, led to the subject being arrested.

A total of 1,016 people were caught with drugs in their possession and 88 were carrying knives or bladed weapons. On four occasions, the person searched was carrying a gun.

A Met spokeswoman said: "Tackling violence is the number one priority for the Metropolitan Police Service. One homicide, one stabbing, one violent incident is one too many.

"The rise in stop and search is a response to the increase in levels of violence and is part of our ongoing efforts to prevent crime, reduce injuries and save lives."

Across London uses of stop and search by the Met have soared from 151,509 in 2018 to 268,432 in 2019: the first dramatic increase after 10 years of steady decline in use of the controversial power.

But at the same time, stop and search became less effective. In 2019 75 per cent of searches led to no further action by police, compared to 71 per cent the year before.

Officers carry out a stop and search on a man who avoided going through a knife arch. Picture: John Stillwell/PA WireOfficers carry out a stop and search on a man who avoided going through a knife arch. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

When presented with the figures by the Recorder, Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal spoke in support of the policy.

He said: "We can't bury our heads in the sand; the increase in knife-related crime across London is well-documented and the police are taking action.

"This includes the use of stop and search powers to try and reduce the number of knives on London's streets. Use of stop and search has increased across London, and Redbridge is no different.

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"Looking at the figures, we know that police have successfully taken weapons and drugs off our streets as a result of using these powers, which can only be a very good thing.

"This is just one of many measures that the police are taking to reduce the knife crime epidemic in London, and it can be effective if it's used in an appropriate and proportionate way."

In Redbridge 6,182 - or 92 per cent - of people who were stopped by police were male and around a third of all those targeted were teenagers aged 15 to 19.

A total of 2,399 of those searched were described as Asian, 2,198 as white, 1,805 as black and 165 described by police as of "other" ethnic appearance.

Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, spoke in support of the Met's actions. Picture: Andrew Baker/Redbridge CouncilCllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, spoke in support of the Met's actions. Picture: Andrew Baker/Redbridge Council

London-wide figures from 2019 show black people are still the most likely to be searched, even though the rate of "positive outcomes" - incidents where something was found - was highest among white people.

Katrina Ffrench, CEO of UK-wide charity StopWatch, said the organisation was "concerned" by the rise.

She added: "In reality [stop and search] is mostly used for low-level drugs offences.

"Police are adamant that stop and search saves lives, but we have argued that actually when over-used, it breaks down trust and confidence in communities.

"They want to be seen to be doing something but the power is used disproportionately for a small reward."

In more than 80 per cent of cases where someone was stopped in Redbridge, officers were looking for drugs or weapons.

But police also searched 763 people suspected of carrying stolen goods and 338 people they thought were "going equipped": carrying tools for criminal purposes.

Of the 184 children aged 10 to 14 that were searched by the Met in Redbridge, just 12 were found carrying anything incriminating.

As a result of police searches in Redbridge 109 people were then suspected of theft or fraud, and 23 of possible immigration offences.

Thirteen people were rapped for carrying psychoactive substances - and two people were caught with fireworks.

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