LONDON: Police in England and Wales are being given greater stop and search powers to tackle rising knife crime.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid is making it easier for officers to search people without reasonable suspicion in places where serious violence may occur.
It comes after fatal stabbings rose last year to the highest point since records began, BBC has reported but campaigners said the move was “disappointing and regressive” and that stop and search is not effective.
Stop and search powers have been controversial for many years, with evidence that they are frequently misused and that they target black people disproportionately. But Mr Javid said: “The police are on the front line in the battle against serious violence and it’s vital we give them the right tools to do their jobs.”
The change is being trialled in seven police force areas where more than 60% of knife crime occurs: London, the West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester. It makes it easier to use so-called “section 60” checks, where for a limited period of time officers can search anyone in a certain area to prevent violent crime.
Under the new rules, inspectors will be able to authorise the use of section 60. Currently, more senior officers have to give approval.
There will also be a lower threshold. Police will only need to reasonably believe serious violence “may” occur, not that it “will”.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said evidence-based stop and search was “a very important tool for police”.
But she added: “Random stop and search is not effective in bringing down levels of knife crime.”
Section 60 has been used at large events such as Notting Hill Carnival last year and after violent incidents such as the stabbing of a man outside Clapham Common Underground station on Friday. Other powers which account for the majority of searches will remain the same, and will still require officers to have reasonable suspicion of an offence.
With 285 deaths from stabbings in 2017-18, the most ever recorded in the UK, ministers have come under increasing pressure to tackle knife crime.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said officers in London had increased the use of section 60 over the past 18 months, following 132 deaths from stabbings in the capital during 2017-18.
She said: “Stop and search is an extremely important power for the police. It is undoubtedly a part of our increasing results suppressing levels of violence and knife crime.”