Police using stop and search powers on under-tens

Police in the West Midlands have been using stop and search powers on primary school children.

Shock figures obtained by the Sunday Mercury reveal that 138 youngsters aged 10 and under have been ordered to empty their pockets by police searching for drugs, weapons or stolen property in the last three years.

And two of them were arrested as a result.

The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, have drawn condemnation from community campaigners, who warn that the crackdown could backfire, and make children LESS respectful.

Figures show that 35 primary age children were subject to stop and search by West Midlands Police in 2010/11. That number rose to 54 in 2011/2012 before dropping back to 43 last year.

And, according to the latest figures available, six primary schoolchildren were stopped and searched by officers between April 1 and August 31 this year.

The number of searches soars as children get older.

In the same period more than 23,000 teenagers under the age of 17 were stopped and searched. Of these 1,582 were arrested by West Midlands Police.

Under current rules police can search anyone they suspect of being in possession of weapons, drugs or stolen property.

West Midlands Police say there are no specific guidelines or additional legal requirements when stopping and searching children aged 10 or under.

If they stop a child, they can demand a search without first getting permission from the youngster’s parent or guardian.

An expert in criminal justice said that while the number of primary school-age children might appear low, it was ‘significant’ in the impact that police action could have on the youngsters.

“One concern is, when the police use stop and search powers, how much is mischievous behaviour being conflated with criminal behaviour?” asked Kate Gooch, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham Law School.

“Police can stop and question children in the same way they can an adult – but children of a primary school age may not have the maturity to deal with what is happening.

“It may appear a small number over three years but it is significant. If children see powers used illegitimately, it could feed into their perceptions of police authority and into their respect for the law.

“There is evidence that the more you draw a child into the criminal justice process at an early age, it is likely to have a counter-productive effect.”

Following a recent spate of knife attacks, including the deaths of city teenagers Azim Azam and rapper Joshua ‘Depzman’ Ribera, Birmingham City Council Cabinet member for community safety, Councillor James McKay (Labour, Harborne) called for more stop and searches.

But community campaigner Desmond Jaddoo said that those two deaths, along with other serious knife incidents, showed stop and search was not working.

The Aston activist said where stop and search powers were used disproportionately, the practice would continue to alienate young people.

“As far as I’m concerned it is not effective in its current form,” he explained. “Stop and search needs to be revamped.

“Trust and confidence from the police perspective is essential in keeping the streets safe – it’s always been a partnership.

“But when there is labelling, or allegations that they are labelling the people they are there to protect, then we have a problem.”

The figures obtained by the Sunday Mercury show ethnic minorities made up around 46 per cent of those stopped and searched by cops.

Yvonne Mosquito, deputy police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, said more evidence was needed about stop and search to assess what could be done to improve the procedure.

“The problem we have at the moment is that we have no way of getting a clear picture of what is happening,” she said.

“What is important is that we continue to press for the development and use of improved technology in the West Midlands, which will help us to understand where, when and why a stop and search has been carried out, and what incidents were taking place in the area at that time.

“We recognise that there is a disproportionate number of stops of people from BME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds. We therefore need to be able to obtain data we can rely on, to help us understand exactly what is going on.”

Chief Superintendent Rick Burgess of West Midlands Police defended the force’s policy.

“Stop and search powers are a vital tool in protecting people and reducing crime,” he said.

“Every year many offenders are identified as a result of them being stopped and searched, and others are persuaded not to commit illegal acts as a result of them knowing that they risk being caught.

“A well-explained and sensitively conducted stop and search can help demonstrate to communities that police are actively tackling crime in their neighbourhood.

“In fact, young people regularly tell us through our School Tracker Panels that they welcome stop and search as a method for us to tackle the issues that matter most to them, particularly knife crime.

“West Midlands Police is committed to ensuring that all stops and searches are conducted ethically, impartially and objectively and that those stopped and searched are treated with courtesy, consideration and respect.

“We are currently embarking upon an enhanced training programme for all front line officers and their supervisors to improve our approach to stop and search.”

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About truelabour

Investigative Journalist/Researcher for major media. Exposing the truth and police corruption with in UK police service.Certain forces say their motto is Honesty & Integrity One must ask is it lip service or genuinely meant. CO-OP Labour Party member questioning is the party standing for working class of Britain. Trade Union Activist & promoting diversity,community cohesion within multicultural Britain. Anti fascist speaks out against all foams of discrimination.
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