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20 August 2014
Warning over risk of racial profiling in stop and search

Warning over risk of racial profiling in stop and search

Equality campaigners have today warned that race could be playing a part in stop and search activity by Scottish police.

Members of the black community are being stopped and searched at up to five times the average rate in some parts of the country, a report released by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) has warned.

Disproportionality was uncovered in Glasgow, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, though CRER said the most concerning result emerged in South Ayrshire where black communities were stopped and searched at a rate of 6,043 stop and searches per 10,000 people.

However, Police Scotland said that a third of searches conducted in this area – which amount to 84 searches in total – related to a single incident, which was a large scale disturbance on a local beach where a number of visitors to the area were searched with positive results.

The study, which is based on an analysis of management figures published by Police Scotland for the year up until March 31, underlines differences between the rate of stop and search for different ethnic groups.

The CRER also casts doubts over the way in which stop searches are being recorded amid claims that the figures mask what is happening to specific communities.

Police Scotland told Holyrood that claims minority communities were being disproportionately targeted were unsubstantiated and ignored contextual information underpinning the raw data.

However, the single service has acknowledged a need to improve the categorisation and recording of ethnicity for monitoring purposes.

In their analysis published today, CRER suggest that ethnic groups, particularly in the west of Scotland, experience stop and search rates far higher than the national average.

Carol Young, CRER policy and information officer, said that without further investigation into potential causes of disproportionality, it is “impossible to rule out racial profiling”.

“Despite the picture of equality that’s being painted nationally, some communities in the west of Scotland are experiencing unreasonably high levels of stop and search," she said. "The new local statistics clearly demonstrate this.

“A rate of stop and search equivalent to six out of ten people in black communities, as seen in South Ayrshire, cannot be ignored. If Police Scotland is serious about tackling racial inequality, it’s time to start using data on stop and search effectively.”

Stop and search south of the border has come in for heavy criticism in recent years amid figures showing disproportional use against black, asian and mixed race people.

Last November, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that in some areas of England and Wales, black people were 29 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.

Stop and search powers south of the border are to be overhauled after the Home Secretary acknowledged that ethnic minorities were being targeted unfairly, though controversy over use of the tactic in Scotland has concentrated on non-statutory stop and search and its use with regards to children.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson said: “Contrary to the claims in this report, it is simply not true that we are disproportionately targeting Black people and this claim is not supported by the data behind the figures quoted. We are committed to transparency through the regular publication of our management information which is why we include information on the use of stop and search.

“We welcome scrutiny by interested parties of the data we release however, any conclusions reached from analysis of the data we publish should be based upon a robust methodology which takes account of the context and circumstances behind the raw data. We work closely with a wide range of organisations which represent the interests of Scotland’s minority communities and such organisations are well aware that we search people based upon intelligence, not upon ethnicity.”

In the specific case of South Ayrshire, almost three quarters were recorded over the summer months when the area sees an influx of tourists, said Mawson.

He added: “Similar contextual information can be provided for all of the areas of concern raised by the authors of the report.

“Whilst we are not complacent, we are content that this report does not provide evidence that we are disproportionately targeting our minority communities for stop search.

“The report does, however, make a valid point about confidence in the categorisation and recording of ethnicity for monitoring purposes. We are aware that we can improve in this regard and the new processes and additional training which form part of our Fife stop and search pilot should go some way to addressing this issue.”

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