Labour offers backing for reform of police stop and search


Labour's has made an offer to the home secretary, Theresa May, of cross-party co-operation to get urgent reform of the police stop and search laws on to the statute book.

The shadow home secretary says that the practice of setting police officers targets for stop and search should be banned and legislation introduced to make clear that stopping someone on the basis of the colour of their skin is illegal, discriminatory and shameful.

Cooper says she shares May's frustration that too many stop and search operations are an expensive waste of police timeand that hundreds of thousands of street stops lead to nothing but resentment particularly among young, black men.

The offer of cross-party talks comes amid reports that May's proposed stop and search reform package has been blocked by Downing Street over claims that it could risk making the Tories look soft on crime. Nick Clegg, who chairs the cabinet's home affairs committee, is said to have backed May's proposed package.

May launched a six-week consultation last July on proposals to ensure the "fair and effective" use of stop and search powers. She said at the time that it was no longer sustainable that black people were still seven times more likely to be searched on the street than white people. She had planned to announce her proposals before Christmas but David Cameron's opposition has led to a standoff.

Cooper wrote to May on Monday telling her that it was too important an issue to be kicked into the long grass. "It goes to the heart of people's trust in the police and the misuse of stop and search has the potential to undermine effective community policing. I hope that you will not give in to the prime minister's opposition to change," she told May.

Cooper says that while there is consensus that the police need targeted stop and search powers to cut crime, the reality is that too many searches are not targeted at all. "We know that only a small proportion of searches lead to arrest and hundreds of thousands of searches currently lead to nothing but resentment," she said.

"That resentment is creating barriers between communities and the police, particularly in the ethnic minority communities that are most affected – that's bad for innocent people regularly and unfairly stopped, bad for the police because it's an expensive waste of time, and bad for community safety because it undermines the relationships we all rely on," she tells the home secretary in her letter.

Cooper says the specific changes that wants to see are:

Replacing current guidance on avoiding race discrimination with legislation to send a stronger message that stopping someone on the basis of the colour of their skin is illegal, discriminatory and shameful.

Banning the practice of giving officers targets for stop and search in some areas.

Restricting the use of section 60 searches, which do not require any grounds for suspicion, to ensure they are not used for dealing with routine crime problems, and requiring a more senior level of authorisation.

Further reform of section 1 stop and search to build on work by the police in London and the West Midlands, where the number of untargeted stops has already been scaled back.

A Home Office spokesperson said they agreed nobody should ever be stopped just on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity.

"The government supports the ability of police officers to stop and search suspects, but it must be applied fairly and in a way which builds community confidence. This is why we consulted over the summer on the powers of stop and search, and we received a strong response. We will respond to the consultation in due course."