Police stop and searches up in Norfolk

Ben KendallThe number of people being stopped and searched by police on Norfolk's streets has risen by more than 50pc over the last five years, new figures have revealed.Ben Kendall

The number of people being stopped and searched by police on Norfolk streets has risen by more than 50pc over the past five years, according to new figures.

Statistics released under the freedom of information act show that the county constabulary used the controversial powers 11,728 times in the past financial year compared with 7,588 in 2003/4.

The figures also show that far more men are stopped - they accounted for almost nine in 10 incidents last year - and 22pc were men aged under 18.

A small number of under-10s have also been searched.

People from ethnic minorities are on average three times more likely to be stopped.

The information was obtained by Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, who said: "Stop and search can be an important part of police activities when the use of these powers is based on intelligence.

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"While there has been a consider-able increase in these powers in Norfolk, so long as they've been used in a targeted manner to tackle a real threat of crime then it is in the public interest.

"The dangers occur when the public perceives that stop-and-search powers are being used in a routine and indiscriminate way, which can lead to communities growing suspicious of the police. It would be ultimately damaging to have an endless growth in the use of stop and search.

"The fact that young children, under the age of 10, are among those being searched is a worrying sign; some teenage and older criminals are known to use young children to hide drugs and weapons.

"However, in dealing with this, it's important that young children are not criminalised and grow up apprehensive of the police."

The news comes at a time when stop-and-search powers have been attacked on several fronts nationally.

Many believe powers under the terrorism act are being used to unfairly target photographers, while a recent study suggested that public order powers had had little impact on issues such as knife crime.

Norfolk police refused to confirm how many searches were conducted under terrorism laws and how many under the criminal justice and public order act.

A spokesman said beat supervisors checked stop-and-search incidents regularly to ensure they were done properly. He added: "When used fairly and effectively, stop and search is a vital power for intelligence-led policing. It allows for effective use of resources to prevent and detect crime and improve the safety of neighbourhoods.

"Whilst data shows 'stops' recorded relating to a small amount of under- 10-year-olds, analysis of those stops shows that they relate to searches, always under reasonable evidential grounds, for drugs hidden in children's clothing.

"Searches of men compared to women is proportionate to the level of offences committed by both sexes."

The spokesman added that that the proportion of stop-and-search cases involving people from ethnic minorities was lower than the national average.