The consultation on Stop and Search closed on Tuesday. In this open letter to Theresa May, the Home Secretary the STOPWATCH YOUTH GROUP tells her what stop and search really means to young people and why the consultation is only the beginning:
Dear Home Secretary,
Over the past three years, the StopWatch Youth Group has been campaigning, educating and advocating for changes to stop and search policy and practice and to improve the experiences of young people who come into contact with the police. Our aims have been to bring young people’s voices to policy debates, draw attention to the impact that stop and search has on our lives and empower our peers to deal with stop and search in a confident and informed way.
We welcome this public consultation, and that you have extended it to September, as a way to allow young people to respond but stop and search has been debated since before our members were even born.
We feel that;
- Stop and search is a tool for the police to harass and bully people. It rarely targets the crime and antisocial behaviour that actually harms communities.
- The powers can only be effective if employed as part of a wider crime fighting strategy - better recording can help with this and also encourages the police to consider how they are using the powers in practice.
- Stop and search targets play a perverse role in unnecessary street confrontations. Setting targets for higher arrest rates is going to lead to arrests that may not have been otherwise made.
- Young people are disproportionately stopped because we are easy targets; we do not know our rights and feel bullied by the police for the way we dress and because we are spending time on the street. We are treated with no respect; even when we ask the police about the reason for the stop they threaten to arrest us for not cooperating.
- Young people are repeatedly told we “fit a description” of a suspect and we feel we are given excuses by the police to justify their search. When the police are not being honest with us it is difficult to expect us to have confidence in them.
- Special youth groups should be set up and be given direct access to decision makers. Members from the community bringing action against the police should be supported through legal aid.
We currently lack faith in any official process and the questions you have asked in this survey are very biased, framing issues like “police bureaucracy” in a leading way. The Home Office needs to earn our respect and trust by ensuring that all stop and search powers - not just the narrow few being consulted on - are used in a much more intelligent, limited and fairer way, which we hope will be the end result of this consultation.
StopWatch Youth Group
The Youth Group’s response is informed by our own opinions and experiences as well as discussions we have been having with young people across London and further afield. For their diverse contributions, we thank BASE- Octavia Foundation, Chelsea Academy, Fully Focused, George Monoux College, Hackney Quest, Kids Company, SE1 United, Skyway Blue Hut, Tower Hamlets Somali Youth Group, Waltham Forest Youth Independent Advisory Group, Youth Futures.
Read our responses to the Home Office survey here