Priti Patel lifts restrictions on use of stop and search to combat knife crime

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Priti Patel - Julian Simmonds
Priti Patel - Julian Simmonds

Police will be permitted to stop and search people without suspicion of a crime under new powers backed by Priti Patel to combat knife violence.

The Home Secretary will on Monday permanently lift restrictions on police’s use of stop and search in areas where they anticipate there may be serious violence.

The move – in a letter to all police forces – will make it easier for them to enact section 60 powers, allowing them to mount “no suspicion” stop and searches in designated areas rather than requiring them to have “reasonable grounds” to suspect a person is carrying a weapon.

Removing the restrictions means that more officers can authorise section 60, the powers can be in place for longer and can be used when police anticipate that serious violence “may” occur rather than “will” occur.

Operation Sceptre backlash

It coincides with today’s launch of Operation Sceptre, a week of intensive action by all 43 police forces in England and Wales to combat knife crime but is likely to provoke a backlash amid claims that police stop and search is used disproportionately against black and ethnic minorities.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she made no apologies for reversing the restrictions imposed on stop and search by her predecessor Theresa May in 2014.

“I stand wholeheartedly behind the police so that they can build on their work to drive down knife crime by making it easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives,” she said.

“The devastating impact of knife crime on families who have lost their loved one is unbearable. No one should have to endure the pain and suffering of the victims of these appalling crimes and we have a responsibility to them to do everything in our power to prevent future tragedies.”

Floral tributes - Rob Pinney/Getty Images
Floral tributes - Rob Pinney/Getty Images

The relaxation of section 60 powers were initially trialled from March 2019 in seven police forces worst affected by record rises in knife crime, covering major cities including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.

Ms Patel said the wider easing of restrictions on stop and search – of which the section 60 pilot was a part – had led to more than 50,000 knives and offensive weapons being seized and more than 150,000 suspects arrested in the two years to March 2021.

Knife crime nearly doubled between 2014/15 and 2019/20 from 26,000 offences a year to 49,000. London last year recorded its worst-ever annual death toll from teenage homicides, with a total of 30 boys and young men killed.

Police officers had complained that the previous restrictions on stop and search made it virtually impossible to introduce section 60s. Stop and searches fell from a peak of 1.2 million in 2012/13 to around 250,000 in 2017/18 after Ms May introduced her changes.

Cracking down on knife crime

Since then, the number of stop and searches have increased to around 650,000 as police forces have used them in their efforts to crack down on knife crime and drug dealing.

The new section 60s can remain in force for 24 hours rather than 15, be approved by an inspector rather than requiring a senior officer to sign them off and can be extended by a superintendent for 48 hours rather than the current 39.

The threshold for a section 60 to be authorised is also reduced from reasonably believing serious violence “will” occur to “may” occur and their creation does not need to be publicly communicated in advance to communities.

The Government has also given police powers to mount “no suspicion” stop and searches on any adults who have previously been convicted for knife or other offensive weapon crimes. Ministers will on Monday consult on the guidance for these new serious violence reduction orders.

Backlash from police chiefs

Ms Patel is facing a backlash from some policing chiefs over moves to give the Home Secretary a right to hold chief constables to account for their decisions.

She is seeking to update a protocol on the Home Secretary’s role that would enshrine her right to demand answers from police chiefs on how they handle incidents such as policing eco-protests or the vandalism of statues such as that carried out on Sir Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol in 2020.

Some police and crime commissioners and police chiefs claim it is a “power grab”. Home Office sources said it was not a threat to police operational independence but simply the Home Secretary defining her right to ask questions.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting