Labour tries to split Tory party with stop-and-search reform

Labour offered cross-party cooperation with Theresa May in her bid to reform police stop-and-search today, as it sought to drive a wedge between the home secretary and the prime minister.

The offer of cooperation comes amid signs that reform of the system has permanently stalled, with a six-week consultation carried out in July still not providing any concrete proposals.

Westminster insiders believe the reforms, which were expected before Christmas, were stopped by David Cameron, who was concerned about any move which meant the Tories were not seen as 'tough on crime'.

"This issue is too important 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," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper wrote to May.

"I hope that you will not give in to the prime minister's opposition to change. Everyone agrees that the police need to have powers to stop and search individuals suspected of crime or to prevent a serious threat.

"However, while targeted action helps cut crime, the reality is too many searches are not targeted at all."

Stop-and-search has long been used disproportionately against black and Asian youths, many of whom have started to see it as a rite of passage as they enter manhood.

The use of stop-and-search among ethnic minorities was raised repeatedly by commentators during the riots in 2011, with one black pundit being stop-and-searched on his way to the TV studios to talk about it.

Cooper is demanding:

  • Replacing current guidance on avoiding race discimination with legislation banning the stopping of people on the basis of the colour of their skin
  • Banning the practice of giving police officers targets for stop-and-search
  • Restricting Section 60 searches, which do not require grounds for suspicion, so they require a more senior level of authorisation
  • Further reform of Section 1 stop-and-search – already undertaken by police in London and the West Midlands – where untargeted searches are reined in.

"Resentment is creating barriers between communities and the police, particularly in the ethnic minority communities that are most affected," Cooper wrote.

"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.

"I am extremely concerned that in some areas officers were set targets for stop and searches. That practice should be banned as it is clearly an abuse of the legislation and means that individuals were stopped and searched simply to meet targets rather than because they were suspected of any crime."

There were over a million searches across the country last year, with 100,000 justifying an arrest.

In London alone there were 260,000 searches in 2013 which did not find any justification for arrest.