More Home Office Confusion!

by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.

The Home Office's consultation on police powers of stop and search is a great example of really bad survey and questionnaire design. Many of the questions are unclear or leading and the logic baffling.

For example Question 3 "to what extent do you agree that the arrest rate following stop and search is a useful measure of the power's effectiveness"  We are then asked to fill in one of five boxes from “strongly agree”, through “neither agree nor disagree” to “strongly disagree”, and then “don’t know”.

How do I answer? I want to say that I feel strongly that the arrest rate following S&S is a useful measure of the power’s ineffectiveness – they admit is only results in arrests 9% of the time. The other 91% of stop and searches often stoke up significant resentment and anger – especially where young Black and Asian men are repeatedly stopped and searched for no apparent reason. Do I say that I strongly agree that the arrest rate is a useful measure of the power’s effectiveness because it is a clear and unambiguous measure of its failure? Or that I strongly disagree – but that makes it sound as though I don’t think there is any real link between the arrest rate and any degree of effectiveness or ineffectiveness at all.

The consultation tries to smuggle in a whole range  of “other, perhaps harder to quantify, ways to judge the effectiveness of stop and search” – such as “deterring criminals from committing offenses”, “increasing police visibility” (presumably to those onlookers who enjoy witnessing individuals or groups of young black men spread-eagled up against walls – being “deterred”), and “addressing the fear of crime through reassurance”  It is worth asking who is being reassured here – as it certainly is not the young Black and Asian victims of frequent stop and search episodes that they understandably perceive as racist harassment.

One might have thought that if there are all those “harder to quantify” ways to justify S&S that there might be a tiny mention of some of the undoubted (and not so hard to quantify) damage that it is clear that S&S frequently does to community relations by singling out Black and Asian people for such exemplary treatment.