People’s Experiences of Stop and Search in England and Wales

Beyond the construction and application of the power to stop and search, there have been at least four studies that have focused on law enforcement officer usage of these powers. Each of these studies will be discussed below to further demonstrate that the construction and use of stop and search in England and Wales have long raised concerns about the lack of a process formalising the construction of the power in addition to law enforcement use of the power.

Firstly, the Open Society Institute (OSI) have found branded the ‘use of stop and search powers as a form of ethnic profiling’ where the consistent disproportionate use of the power to stop and search against those individuals recorded as being Black and Asian ethnicities in contrast to those recorded as being White.95

The continual disproportionate use of the power to stop and search over a sustained period of time led the OSI to conclude that the ‘stop-and-search practices have targeted persons perceived to be Muslim’ without any discernible justification.96

Secondly, according to Miller that attempts to reform the stop and search power will do little, if anything, to deal with the disproportionate targeting of ethnicity minority communities thought to be engaged in terrorism or preparatory activities.97 This suggests that the reforms related to the construction of the power to stop and search may do little to alleviate the focus of suspicion on particular ethnicities. Although in recent years there has been low uses of the counterterrorism power to stop and search, it seems plausible to suggest that when this power is used more frequently in the future, there will likely continue to be a disproportionate focus on particular ethnicities which may in part be attributable to a deficient process regulating the use of the power in practice.

Thirdly, according to Parmer the extent of the disparity in the use of the counterterrorism stop and search in areas such as London appear devoid of a policing function other than to allow for the targeting of particular ethnicities perceived as being involved in terrorism.98

Fourthly, Yesufu has found that the continued use of the power to stop and search is simply discriminatory based on the systematic targeting of particular ethnicities such as Asian and Black ethnicities.99

Beyond these studies, there have other additional older studies related to police uses of their discretionary powers under older counterterrorism laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Acts was a cause for concern for the Irish communities living in Britain during the 1980s. For instance, Hillyard found considerable evidence that the police were effectively engaged in using their powers as the basis to select members of the Irish community simply because the threat of terrorism emanated from the Irish community due to the political violence coming from Northern Ireland at the time.100

More recent studies undertaken by Hickman et alm and previously Pantazis and Pemberto102 suggest that there are some parallels between the experiences of the Irish communities with the current experiences of the Muslim communities being the subject of focus of discretionary police powers because of their ethnicity. This had led academics, such as Breen-Smyth,103 to conclude that the use of police powers in England and Wales focus on particular ethnicities perceived as being a risk to terrorism. It may be argued that the continual effect of focusing on particular ethnicities creates a strong likelihood that police powers in some instances may be deployed in a manner that is at worst lacking any process to construct/apply profiles or at best a deficient process to ensure sufficient controls is placed on the types of data being used by law enforcement officers. This falls far short of the processes evident in manifestations of formal terrorist profiling examined in chapter four.

Stop and Search Powers as an Example of Informal Terrorist Profiling

On the basis of the discussion throughout the previous sections, the argument advanced in this chapter is that some uses of the power to stop and search power may be considered as being an example of informal terrorist profiling for at least two reasons.

Firstly, the evidence considered above on law enforcement officer use of stop and search powers would appear to suggest that the power is being deployed as a basis to identify individuals who are perceived as being a suspect for enhanced questioning/screening in an ad hoc manner based on low visibility discretion exercised by individual law enforcement officers. It is the use of stop and search as the basis to identify individuals perceived as being suspects for enhanced levels of investigation/screening that makes this use of the power tantamount to a profiling method/approach/technique. This is demonstrated consistently to a high degree of probability stemming from the construction of the power to stop and search to the use of this power in practice to target particular ethnicities that are thus far unexplained by law enforcement agencies. The studies on the peoples’ experiences of stop and search go further to reinforce the very strong likelihood that individuals from Asian and Black ethnicities appear to be the focal point of these powers in practice which would indicate or at least be the hallmarks of a profiling process likely to be without a systematic process comparable with those manifestations of formal terrorist profiling.

Secondly, there is no formal acknowledgement made by the state that some sort of profiling is being/may be being used as part of the ordinary range of police tools, mechanisms and powers as a profiling method/approach/technique in the detection, deterrence or prevention of crime and/or terrorism. This is in direct contrast to the manifestations of formal terrorist profiling in chapter three. For instance, the discussion in chapter four considered formal terrorist profiling manifestations, such as knowledge discovery processes and data mining. It was clear from this discussion that these formal terrorist profiling manifestations contained an official acknowledgement of their use as a profiling method/approach/technique as law enforcement officers used them to assist in the identification of individuals for enhanced questioning.

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