NEWS

U.K. to Liberalize Police Stop and Search Powers

By Matthew Harwood

Efforts by both the Labour and Conservative parties would liberalize police stop and search powers in an effort to prevent crime, according to various English media outlets.

The Telegraph reports:

Police will be given more freedom to stop and search suspects, the Prime Minister pledged today.

Gordon Brown said a review of current powers would be made public next week, but promised it would lead to a reduction in the bureaucracy which police complain often makes them reluctant to pull suspects over.

A community police officer laid out what stop and search is for BBC.com: "At the moment, any police officer has the power to stop and search someone if they have the grounds to believe they are concealing something prohibited in law. That could be either a weapon, drugs or something to help them gain entry to something they should not be allowed to."

However, to ensure police officers are acting accountably and professionally, they must fill out a form after each stop and search and offer a copy to the person stopped. The form measures a foot long and contains 40 questions for the officer to answer. Filling out the form typically takes seven minutes, according to the Telegraph.

Conservative Party critics say the form wastes precious police time and want it scrapped.

"In just one police area in one year, they had to fill in 79,000 forms - that is 9,216 hours of valuable police time," said David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

Advocates for a more liberal stop and search power for police want to give police the same leeway nationwide that they already give them in high gun and knife crime areas.

But as the Guardian warns, this move to liberalize police stop and search powers neglects why they were instituted in the first place.

The Conservatives' pledge yesterday to scrap the forms used in every "stop and account" revived memories of "sus" laws under which police needed only an officer's suspicion of illegal intent to stop and search someone. The widespread use of the laws to deal with street crime notoriously sparked the 1981 Brixton riots.

The Brixton riots stemmed from the black community's anger that police used stop and search powers disproportionately. 

Cameron justified increasing police power of stop and search by stating what occurred in the early 1980s would not happen again because police were no longer racist.

Nevertheless, the Guardian reports young black and Asian people are currently six times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

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