Police under scrutiny over stop and search in Waltham Forest

Police defended their use of stop and search in Waltham Forest after a scrutiny group pointed out almost nine out of every ten searches resulted in no further action.

The Waltham Forest Stop and Search group, which met on Monday (June 29), showed only 11 per cent of searches between January and May led to an arrest, fine, warning or similar.

Black people in the borough are more than twice as likely to be searched as their white counterparts, a statistic that has remained constant for some years.

MP Stella Creasy asked: “On the face of it, if 89 per cent of stops do not result in any further action, it’s an understandable question to say are we targeting the right people with this tactic?”

The Met’s own data shows something was found in around 20 per cent of searches during the period, though in some cases officers may choose not to take formal action.

However, out of 1,496 stop and searches conducted in Waltham Forest during May, this still means almost 1,200 found nothing illegal. 

Anecdotes collected by the council’s Youth Independent Advisory Group show many of the borough’s young people, particularly black young people, feel unfairly targeted by police.

One pre-teen boy, who was not named for privacy reasons, said: “I was playing football and they started searching me because they thought we were drug-dealing and shouting at us. 

“They were too aggressive and I wanted to complain.”

Another young woman, who had been stopped and searched more than five times, said: “The searches were not warranted, I would get picked on for no reason. Realistically the police need to be watched more.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker responded to concerns raised by the group by asking if they had engaged with any young people who were stopped and found to be “armed to the teeth”.

He said: “As a public servant we welcome scrutiny, I think the Met Police is probably the most scrutinised public service in the country.

“I have got a laminated picture of young men who have lost their lives in the area I’m responsible for and I go to work thinking how am I going to stop that happening again?

“One of the tactics we use is stop and search and targeting areas where we know gangs operate.”

Co-chairman Aimee Farquhar said: “We all live in the community, we know young people who have been victims of violent crime.

“But there’s also a lot of young people who get picked up in the stop and search that’s happening that aren’t part of that and it does have an impact on them.

“And I’m always a little bit concerned that that isn’t fully understood by the police. Eighty per cent are just people generally going about their business.

“It does have an impact on those individuals, it does have an impact on the communities and I think that’s coming out in the Black Lives Matters protests that people do feel a bit victimised in relation to that.”

She added that, even of the 20 per cent where something was found, “quite a large proportion of that is for drugs and sometimes quite small quantities of drugs” rather than for weapons. 

Inspector Marcus Walton said police are “constantly trying to listen and learn” and that he had some “fantastic” conservations while working as a police liaison for the BLM protests.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter