Stop and search procedures in Tower Hamlets are the fourth highest in London, according to Metropolitan Police statistics.
The figures show that the borough had 34,661 stop and searches between April 2019 to April 2021. This is nearly twice as much as Lewisham, which had 17,536 in the same time frame, 56 per cent higher than Hackney which had 22,208 and 17 per cent higher than Croydon, which had 29,729.
Despite the extent of stop and search in Tower Hamlets, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police claimed it was used legitimately. Chief Inspector Charlene Pavitt, from Bethnal Green Police Station said: “All police officers on Central East BCU [Hackney and Tower Hamlets Basic Command Unit] receive extensive training in the use of Stop and Search in order to ensure that it is used both proportionately and legally.
“Each individual officer justifies their use of any relevant power which is supervised and scrutinised both by their line managers and our own continuous improvement team . . .”
Pavitt believes that stop and search is used at a fair rate, but recent figures imply that the use of searching powers is disproportionate. The Home Office said on the government website: “[T]here were there were 6 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people [during April 2019 to March 2020 in England and Wales].”
According to the latest Census Research Briefing, 55 per cent of the borough’s population are BME and critics have suggested that police searching powers are intrinsically racist.
Chair of the Coalition of Race Equality, David Weaver said in the Race on the Agenda website: “My reality and that of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people is one of living with racism. It is on the streets manifesting as hate crime, stop and search and knife-crime.”
Stop and search might also be inefficient in tackling the root of crime, whilst generating racial bias. Leroy Logan, former superintendent for Met police and former chair of the National Black Police Association, said in the Criminal Justice Alliance website: “Some police forces have shown they are incapable of objectively self-controlling their use of section 60 [stop and search].
“It traumatises young people and leads to heavy racial profiling. It is also ineffective in dealing with the causes of crime . . .”
Pavitt said: “[T]ower Hamlets does have a high volume of calls when compared to other BOCUs [borough operational command unit] so this may well be one of the factors [causing stop and search].”
Neighbourhood manager for Tower Hamlets council, John Fortune, also believes that the borough’s high crime levels might be initiating stop and search. Fortune said: “Tower Hamlets has very high levels of drugs, residents report open drug dealing and use on the streets, there is also high levels of knife crime which may or may not be linked.
“So as a way to detect crime, stop and search can be very effective. It can also work as a deterrent, especially where weapons are concerned.”
Statistics from the Metropolitan Police reveal that 72 per cent of stop and searches in Tower Hamlets, are due to suspicions of drug possession, which makes it the most common reason for the use of police searching powers.
Met police believe that stop and search will protect residents, whilst helping to prevent crime. Pavitt said: “This [stop and search] is just one important policing tool used in order to keep our communities safe whilst reducing the number of violent offences, theft and drug related crime from taking place.”
But the use of police searching powers in Tower Hamlets, may not be enough to reduce drug use and dealing. Fortune said: “A trauma informed, holistic approach achieving a balance between treatment and enforcement are key to public trust, confidence and solving the problem [of drugs]. You will never solve drug dealing by catching drug dealers, you will never solve the using issue either without support and treatment in place.”