Black people are five times more likely to be stopped and searched by police across Avon and Somerset, new figures reveal.

And overall across the force, the use of stop and search has reached a six-year high. Despite the overall increase, the arrest rate has actually dropped, with 10% of stop and searches resulting in arrests last year, compared to 15% in 2019/20.

Human rights groups say these powers are “overused and abused”, and have opposed plans to expand them and remove safeguards designed to protect people from discrimination.

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Black people in Avon and Somerset were 5.8 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people last year, data from the Home Office shows.

And the latest figures revealed that 10,386 stops were conducted by Avon and Somerset Police in 2020/21 – up 21% from 8,555 stops the year before, and the highest number seen since 2014/15.

The rise is at least partly because drops in crime during lockdowns gave forces more time for this type of “proactive” policing.

In particular, the increase was driven by a surge in stops for suspected drugs offences, with the number rising by 32% from 5,232 drug-related stops in 2019/20 to 6,900 in 2020/21.

There were also 1,071 stops because of suspicion that the person was going equipped to steal or cause criminal damage (up from 433), 1,213 because of suspected offensive weapons (up from 1,182), and 421 because of suspected stolen property (down from 609).

A further 83 stops were conducted because the person was suspected to be carrying firearms (up from 60), 290 relating to criminal damage (up from 185), and 408 for other reasons (down from 853).

There were no section 60 stop and searches, which allow police to stop people without suspicion that a crime is actually taking place – down from one conducted in 2019/20.

Despite the overall increase, the arrest rate has actually dropped, with 10% of stop and searches resulting in arrest last year, compared to 15% in 2019/20.

The figures coincide with the mass Black Lives Matter protests across Britain, after the murder of George Floyd by police in the US led to concerns about stop and search and racial disparity in the UK.

They reveal that Black people continue to be disproportionately targeted by these powers.

Nationally, young minority ethnic males aged 15 to 19 experienced the highest rate of stops, with the equivalent of one in every five in this group stopped last year – a rate three times higher than their white peers.

When compared with the local population, Black people in Avon and Somerset were 5.8 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people last year.

That’s despite Black people being only slightly more likely to be arrested if they are stopped.

Avon and Somerset Police said in a statement that it is trying to “better understand and address” why Black people continue to be disproportionately targeted by stop and search powers. The statement can be read in full at the bottom of this article.

Of the Black people that were stopped in Avon and Somerset in 2020/21, 13% were then arrested – compared to 9% of white people.

The stop and search disparity has improved compared to the year before, however, when Black people were 6.4 times more likely to be stopped.

Generic image of police stop and search

Other ethnic minorities in the area were also more likely to be stopped than White people in the last year.

Liberty, StopWatch and UNJUST UK have all condemned the Government’s plans to roll back safeguards and expand what they consider the most discriminatory forms of stop and search in the Policing Bill.

Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “These statistics prove once again that police have overused and abused stop and search powers, making life harder and more dangerous for certain communities, and particularly Black men.

“These statistics reinforce just how alarming the Government’s plans to expand stop and search powers are, especially given their recent dangerous proposals to remove the very safeguards that are supposed to protect people from discrimination and abuse of police power.

“Liberty and other groups have long opposed these plans, including new protest-specific stop and search powers and other disproportionate measures in the Policing Bill, which will only serve to exacerbate the conditions that lead to serious violence.

“Former police leaders, as well as community and social workers, have all warned that new and increased stop and search powers will put young people at risk.

“Rather than continuing to put people in danger, the Government must scrap the Bill, roll back police powers and listen to the meaningful discussions about alternative ways to keep communities safe.”

Across England and Wales, use of stop and search increased by 22% in the last year, rising from 577,244 stops in 2019/20 to 704,239 in 2020/21 – the highest number in seven years.

The figure excludes Greater Manchester Police, who were unable to provide complete data for 2019/20.

Despite the increase in searches, the proportion resulting in an arrest has actually fallen nationally – from 13% in 2019/20 to 11% in the last year.

Across England and Wales, Black people were 6.3 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people in 2020/21 – down from 7.9 times more likely the year before.

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A Home Office spokesperson said: “Stop and search is a vital tool for police to protect the public – it removed almost 16,000 dangerous weapons from our streets and resulted in over 79,000 arrests last year.

“Every weapon removed is a potential life saved and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will make our country and streets safer by equipping the police with the powers and tools they need to keep our streets safe.

“Tragically, data shows that young Black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime.

“No one should be targeted for stop and search because of their race and there are extensive safeguards in place to prevent this.”

Avon and Somerset Police response

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesperson said: “Tackling and preventing crime is our top priority and stop and search can be an effective tool in helping us do this. We’re committed to ensuring the grounds for any search are reasonable, and always consider the impact any search may have on the wider public or community where it takes place.

“The fact that Black people continue to be disproportionately targeted by stop and search powers is an issue we are striving to better understand and address.

“We are conducting a comprehensive review of our information and intelligence processes and improving our first and second line manager scrutiny of stop search, to ensure that officers are using their powers legitimately.

“We are fully committed to ensuring we are delivering outstanding policing for all.”

The spokesperson added thatover time “Black and Asian disproportionality have reduced, whereas Mixed and Other have increased”.

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