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Stop'n'search gets touchy-feely

Section 44 not to detect terrorists 'but to reassure Londoners'

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The mention of the Section 43 powers right in the introduction is clearly there to increase the awareness of all constables of these other stop and search powers also present in the Terrorism Act 2000. The new short sentence on Section 43 is also were the detection of terrorists reappears, as a tactic.

Section 43 provides powers for the police to search someone they reasonably suspect of being a terrorist for the purpose of discovering relevant evidence. These powers are distinct and should not be confused; this is clarified in a new section titled 'The Encounter':

If after speaking with the person stopped the officer considers a search is still required, then a Section 44 search should be carried out. If the officer has reasonable grounds to search then a section 43 search should be completed.

None of the generally available statistics (such as Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, Home Office Statistical Bulletins and Met Stop and Search Monitoring Reports) that include data on stops and searches separate Section 43 data from overall total. One of the very few relevant statistics appeared in the Metropolitan Police Authority document Counter-Terrorism: The London Debate: from October 2005 to September 2006, the Met conducted 114 Section 43 stops resulting in 13 arrests, none of which were for terrorism-related offences. From this limited data, Section 43 has been particularly inefficient to detect terrorists.

Terrorists do indeed need to travel, transport and prepare. They also need to sleep and eat. As does everyone else. The last annual Met counter-terrorism ad campaign highlighted three dangerous items used by terrorists: mobile phones, houses and cameras. Photographers have been found particularly suspicious lately.

In the new 'The Encounter' section, one of the "Notes to officer" is:

Explain to the person being stopped that they are being stopped as part of the operation to reduce the risk of terrorism in London. Reassure the individual that the stop is a routine part of counter-terrorist policing and it is a preventative power proven to help make London safer from a terrorist attack.

After years of getting poor results in terms of stopping terrorists using the powers of Section 44, is the Met attempting to use these as a public relations tool? Officers conducting the stops and searches may find it difficult to convince us.

(For a more general context see the latest Practice advice on stop and search in relation to terrorism, now produced by the National Policing Improvement Agency on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers.)

David Mery is a scribbler and technologist based in London. Over three years ago he was stopped and searched under Section 44(2). Subsequently he went to ask a question to the Metropolitan Police Authority about the effects of such tactics on the relationship between Londoners and the police. His website is gizmonaut.net.

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