Bristol stop and search: Race campaigners fear some feel 'targeted' by police powers

  • Race campaigners talk to ITV News about enhanced stop and search measures granted to police after a spate of stabbings in Bristol.

Race campaigners have criticised Avon and Somerset Police's use of emergency stop and search powers following a series of knife attacks in Bristol, saying some people in the community felt "targeted".

Officers were granted powers to carry out searches without needing reasonable grounds for suspicion in some parts of the city for 48 hours between Thursday 15 February and Saturday 17 February.

The measures were put in place after the death of Darrian Williams, 16, who was stabbed in the Easton area of the city on 14 February and Max Dixon, 16, and Mason Rist, 15, who were killed in Knowle West on 27 January.

Police have confirmed more than half of of the 33 people stopped during the period of enhanced measures were black.

No weapons were found - something police say could have been a result of the publicity around the emergency powers; meaning people were deterred from carrying weapons.

But some campaigners say the measures could not provide a 'solution' to the issue of young people carrying knives.

The searches took place in Bristol city centre, St Pauls, Easton, Eastville, Ashley Down, Temple, and Fishponds, under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Darrian Williams, 16, was killed in Bristol and is another victim of knife crime in the city Credit: Avon and Somerset Police

In total, 33 people stopped during this period, around 60% were black despite the city's Black and Asian population being 18%.

Police say this was because of the demographics of the districts in which the attacks - and the stop and searches - took place.

The measures also followed the deaths of Max Dixon, 16, and Mason Rist,15, who were stabbed in Knowle West on 27 January, a predominantly white area.

But no section 60 was put in place immediately after their deaths.

When asked why the force didn't bring the powers in at that stage, Superintendent Mark Runacres, Avon and Somerset Police, said: "Following the awful incident in South Bristol we worked very hard in the hours immediately following the incident to identify associated risks and understand if there are any measures that we could take to mitigate those risks.

"That in itself was an isolated incident that led to the tragic deaths of Max and Mason.

"In East Bristol, we had a series of three incidents that followed in quick succession with very high levels of violence and offensive weapons being used in those attacks.

"So it was deemed necessary, the risk being as high as it was, to implement the initiative as a preventative measure and as a deterrent for people carrying knives."

'This is a Bristol problem, not just black kids'

Desmond Brown, police advisor for the Avon and Somerset force, said: "People feel like they are being targeted by this and we’re not solving the problem.

"It isn’t the fact that black people are more likely to carry knives in certain areas and certain demographics but this is a Bristol problem, not just black kids.

Desmond Brown says people feel 'targeted' as black people disproportionately stopped in the police's stop and search Credit: ITV News

"It’s the white kids we’re worrying about too and while we have these disproportionate outcomes, we’re not solving the problem."

"It [Section 60] hasn’t worked anywhere in the UK."

'It's the next best option'

However, anti-knife crime campaigner from the city, Leanne Reynolds, supported the emergency measures, describing the move as "needed."

"We're at crisis point. They've got the weapons. Children are killing children on the streets.

"If they've already got the weapons and they aren't being stopped then that's the next best option. To stop them and try and retrieve these weapons."

Anti-knife crime campaigner Leanne Reynolds said the new measures are "needed". Credit: PA

All the searches were recorded on body-worn video and all of those stopped were offered a stop and search receipt.

More than half (17) of those stopped were aged between 18 and 24 with just over a third (12) aged between 10 and 17.

While no weapons were found in any of the searches, two people were found in possession of small amounts of cannabis.

One person was asked to remove their balaclava.

The force says the decision was taken to mitigate an 'unprecedented' surge in knife crime and as part of its commitment to transparency has shared the results.

Every stop carried out has been personally watched by Chief Inspector Hayward-Melen and will be scrutinised externally by the Independent Scrutiny of Police Powers Panel.

In response, Chief Inspector Hayward-Melen said: “We know that the decision to use the powers in some parts of the city and not others was of concern to some communities.

"The decision was based on recent incidents of violence in the designated areas and on current intelligence.

“The powers were brought in following consultation with stakeholders and community leaders and in direct response to those leaders telling us they wanted the police to do more to try and keep young people safe.

“We know that the disproportionality shown in these figures will be of great concern to many and we’d like to reassure people that every stop will be scrutinised externally by the Independent Scrutiny of Police Powers Panel.

“We are committed to working alongside all our partners and communities to reduce the harm caused by weapons on our streets.

"Knife crime and youth violence are complex, layered issues which require a long-term multi-agency strategy to make an impact. However, we do sometimes need to introduce short-term measures to keep people safe."