Cambridgeshire Police Authority has recently published a review of its Stop & Search figures which has provoked a good deal of discussion on local blogger Richard Taylor’s website. I took a look at the data in the report.
Firstly, how many stop & search incidents have there been?
As you can see, there has been a general upward trend over the last year, though with a peak in January. Cambridgeshire Constabulary is made up of three Basic Command Units (BCUs): Northern covers Peterborough; Central covers Huntingdon, St Neots, St Ives, March, Chatteris and Wisbech; Southern covers Cambridge, Ely, Sawston and Histon.
What was the ethnicity of those being stopped? As you might expect, they were overwhelmingly white:
Of course, the population of Cambridgeshire is also overwhemingly white, so that’s hardly surprising. But are the number of stops proportional to the population of each ethnicity? Well, no:
Black people are twice as likely to be stopped as white people. Is this because the police are prejudiced against black people, or is it because black people are disproportionately involved in suspicious activity, or some combination of both? This data alone, it seems to me, doesn’t tell us.
It’s worth mentioning that ethnicity here is self defined, i.e. it’s recorded as being whatever the person stopped says it is. So I suppose it’s possible that some of those recorded as “Black or Black British” are actually sarcastic white people. But it seems unlikely.
The report then goes on to give figures for whether any further action was taken after the stop and search. These are pretty similar across the different ethnic groups:
The report argues that “the equitable use of this disposal across ethnic groups should provide continued reassurance that this outcome is proportionate.” Well, up to a point. I think this really depends on what the further action is, and the outcome of that action. Are the numbers prosecuted, cautioned, or given words of advice similar for different ethnic groups? How do conviction and acquittal rates compare? The report doesn’t say. Without this information it’s hard to know whether the different stop rates really are proportionate or not.
The report says that reasonable grounds for suspicion have to exist before a stop can take place. For nearly half of all stops, these grounds were related to drugs:
Violence is the legislative authority in a perhaps surprisingly small number of stops – only 33. There were a grand total of four stops under the famous section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
The report also gives figures showing that the ethnic breakdown of arrests after a stop and search is similar to that of all arrests, and argues that this is also evidence of proportionality. But again, without knowing the outcome of the arrests, it’s hard to draw a definite conclusion as to whether these stops are or aren’t proportionate.
Update: Richard Taylor has written a further article about this issue.