Green councillor speaks out on borough-wide stop and search orders

Councillor Sian Berry

Green Party councillor Sian Berry. Photograph: Sian Berry

The use of borough-wide police orders allowing officers to stop and search anyone in a targeted area without grounds for suspicion has been called into question.

Cllr Siân Berry (Green, Highgate), who also serves as Leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly, first heard of ‘Section 60’ (S60) powers being used in Camden in 2018 after reading about their imposition in a newspaper article.

Cllr Berry obtained data showing that seven S60s had been used in Camden in 2018 so far, though police had announced their use only once.

S60 powers are used by senior police officers to allow members of the public to be stopped and searched in a specific area where it is believed imminent violence may take place, even if there is no reasonable suspicion they may be carrying a weapon.

However, Cllr Berry has questioned the frequently wide areas S60 orders have been used to cover.

In an interview with the Citizen, Cllr Berry said: “This is a worrying creep of what should be a very limited power.

“I had read in the newspaper that, in response to two very serious stabbings in Camden in which we had two deaths in one night, police had introduced an S60 order to cover the entire borough.

“I would question the value of borough-wide S60s. My suspicion is it’s being used more as a tool to reassure people than as an actual policing tool.

“These are very serious powers to put across people in a whole borough, and people many miles away from the original incident may be stopped and searched for other reasons that aren’t to do with what happened.

“The powers have quite a strict test for imposition. There is supposed to be an imminent risk of specific violence happening in a specific area.

“I would definitely argue that that does not extend to every ward in a borough when you have got a serious incident happening.

“The number of these orders has now shot up since previous years, so it is clearly a new policy of the police to do this.

“We’re only talking about following guidelines that already exist. If there were a serious incident and the police needed to impose S60 on an area, I would welcome being invited to come on to the streets and keep people informed, but we’re not.

“In certain circumstances, S60s are appropriate, but mostly you should not need to do it.”

Borough-wide S60s have been issued by police 48 times in the first four months of 2018, according to Cllr Berry’s figures.

This represents a sharp rise from 2017’s annual total of 18. In 2016, borough-wide S60s were put in place three times.

Newham is the borough where the orders have been used at the greatest rate – a total of 22 times so far this year.

Cllr Berry went on to call for more open links of communication between the police and councillors when S60s are used.

Cllr Berry said: “There should be much more communication, because ideally what you’re aiming for is all the people in the borough to know.

“Residents who get stopped and searched who are told that they do not have the usual rights might come to councillors and ask if they knew that this was happening.

“We would then be telling them in good faith that it shouldn’t have happened, as they ought to have rights, and that wouldn’t be true. We’d be misleading our residents.

“So it’s a good idea to keep us all informed and to make every effort to reach all the people affected.”

In response to questions from the Citizen on the borough-wide use of S60s, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “This is a preventative power that allows senior police officers to authorise constables in uniform to stop and search pedestrians and vehicles in a specific area, either where serious violence is likely to arise or has taken place, and/or it is believed that persons are carrying offensive weapons or dangerous instruments.

“This tactic is authorised by a Commander following application by a Superintendent. The geographical location will be defined and justified, based on the available intelligence and associated risk. On occasions this means the authority may be across whole borough or straddle borough boundaries.

“Guidance to officers applying for an S60 is to inform the local stop and search community monitoring group, and where possible the local independent advisory groups, safer neighbourhood boards and other local stakeholders.

“S60s can be authorised and implemented very quickly depending on the circumstances so it may be that these stakeholders are informed after the implementation. It is also publicised on social media so the public are aware.

“Local Basic Command Unit (BCU) Commanders have regular meetings with local authorities and have close communications with them.

“We would encourage any councillor who has concerns about use of stop and search or section 60 on their borough to contact their local BCU Commander.”

In response to Cllr Berry’s questioning on the matter, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has agreed to invite Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime Sophie Linden, as well as relevant officers from the Metropolitan Police, to discuss the use of S60s at a future City Hall police & crime committee.

Camden Council were contacted in connection with Cllr Berry’s concerns, but had not responded by time of going to press.