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  1. ITV Report

Stop and search rules eased to combat knife crime crisis

Police officers will be granted more stop and search powers in a bid to tackle the knife crime crisis.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has made it simpler for police to use stop and search in areas where serious violence occurs.

The changes come after a record-breaking number of stabbings last year.

There were 285 deaths from stabbings in the year to March 2018 – the highest number since records started in 1946.

Mr Javid said stop and search powers are a "vital tool in fighting serious violence", but said race was "irrelevant" when it comes to the powers.

The increase in stop and search will see at least 3,000 more officers using the powers. Credit: PA

Currently, officers can only use stop and search powers when they believe serious violence "will" take place.

Under the new changes, brought in by Mr Javid, an officer only has to believe serious violence "may" occur.

In addition, the rank in which a section 60 order can be approved has lowered, from above chief superintendent to inspectors.

This will result in at least 3,000 more officers being able to authorise the use of the powers, officials estimate.

There were 285 deaths from stabbings in the year to March 2018. Credit: PA Graphics

Section 60 powers allow officers to stop and search anyone in a designated area for a limited time if serious violence is anticipated.

The home secretary said: "When people do sometimes bring up the issue of race and stop and search, what I say is when you look at London, for example, and look at the knife crime that took place last year, you are four times more likely to be a victim of knife crime if you are from a black, minority ethnic background.

"What I'm interested in is protecting people and making sure they don't become victims in the first place."

Campaigners have argued race does play a major part in stop and search patrols, as black people are disproportionately targeted.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid is in favour of stop and search. Credit: PA

Dr Mike Shiner, from StopWatch, an organisation which aims to address excessive stop and search, said the powers are "being weaponised against young black men."

He added: "There is little - if any - evidence that stop and search is effective in tackling knife crime and serious violence, but the costs are clear.

"Criminalising and marginalising the already vulnerable and disadvantaged, often for minor drug possession offences, that are tolerated elsewhere, fuels anger and disaffection.

"It is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be doing all we can to reclaim those we are at risk of losing, not pushing them further away.”

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The changes will be brought in for a year in seven police forces; London, West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester.

The seven police forces collectively account for over 60 per cent of total national knife crime.

Section 60 is often used at major public events, such as the Notting Hill Carnival, and after serious violent incidents, such as the Clapham Common stabbing on Friday.

In 2017/18, police in England and Wales carried out 2,501 stops and searches under section 60, up from 631 in the previous year.

Stop and search activity has plunged in recent years, after then home secretary Theresa May introduced reforms to ensure more targeted use of the powers, following criticism they unfairly focused on black and minority ethnic individuals.

However the prime minister has backed the recent announcement, and said stop and search is an “important tool” in the fight against knife crime.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the police force had increased its use of stop and search. Credit: PA

Mr Javid has backed the tactics since his appointment last year.

He has already announced plans to widen the circumstances in which they can be deployed to combat acid attacks and misuse of drones.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said her force has increased its use of Section 60 in the last 18 months.

She said: “Stop and search is an extremely important power for the police.

“Our well-trained officers, acting on intelligence, use their powers professionally every day to remove weapons and other illegal items from the streets and to arrest violent offenders and those who habitually carry weapons.”

The announcement forms part of the Government’s efforts to tackle surging violence after a spate of fatal stabbings prompted warnings of a “national emergency”.