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SPECIAL REPORT: Youngsters demand proper use of stop and search

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STOP and search has been a source of controversy for years, long before it was held up as contributing to the 2011 riots in Croydon. When a report which looked into the root causes of the violence pulled up the tactic as a major source of tension between those involved and the police, the Met responded, in January last year, by overhauling the practice, making it intelligence-led in an attempt to reduce the number of people searched without suspicion. Since then the number of stop and searches has fallen, from 17,595 in 2011/12 to 12,345 in 2012/13. Yet, for some, the tactic remains a source of tension and generational distrust between sections of the community - particularly young people - and the police. Aaron Sonson, a 26-year-old Croydon musician from Pampisford Road, South Croydon, was so affected by his experiences of stop and search as a teenager, that he developed a smartphone app in the hopes of prompting better police practice. "The thing is, I grew up with bad experience of stop and search – police would do it to us because of what we looked like – either because of the colour of our skin or what we were wearing," he told the Advertiser. "We would be stopped and then, when we asked why we had been targeted, we were told we looked like someone who would commit a crime. "In March 2010, I was on a course called 'Making apps for good' which helps you build on ideas that would be good for the community. "At the time, stop and search was getting a lot of attention in the media because the European Convention on Human Rights ruled section 44 (the stop and search element of the Terrorism Act 2000) illegal. "This app we've made aims to increase transparency and accountability with the police so they don't misuse their power." The app, which is released in August, allows anyone who has been stopped and searched to record their experiences. It details the procedure police should adhere to and asks for details of gender, age and ethnicity, as well as allowing users to describe how they were treated. Mr Sonson said: "We want to be as balanced as possible so we ask questions like 'Do you feel like you cooperated with the police?' as well as 'Were you treated with respect?' "Then the app pinpoints where the user was stopped and adds it to a countrywide map of where all the stop and searches have taken place. "This will gives us a clear picture of where they are happening and where people are OK or unhappy with them. "It's about empowerment and having an equal relationship between the police and the public. "When you don't have that, things start to break down. If a kid's first experience of the police is being treated badly through a stop and search for no reason, then of course it will more likely to lead to trouble later. "Also, the figures are very clear – if you are black, you are more likely to be stopped. "We need to make sure this blanket prejudice is stopped and that police only search someone if they have intelligence on them. It's a human right." Chief Inspector Duncan Slade, who leads stop and search in Croydon, said most communities support the tactic but also want to see it used correctly and fairly. Statistics show that in 2011/12, 88.2 per cent of people stopped and searched had not committed a crime. In 2012/13, this figure dropped to 82.1 per cent although the Met's overall target has been set at 80 per cent. "Every officer in Croydon is briefed about using stop and search in a more targeted way and this has seen a big reduction in the total number of stop and searches," said Ch Insp Duncan Slade. "At the same time we have increased the number of people being arrested following a stop and search. "However, we still have a way to go and we are working with our Independent Advisory Group - set up in 2012 – to improve the way we carry out stop and search in Croydon. "Stop and search is undoubtedly an effective policing tactic, which helps us target those committing serious crimes such as robbery and drug-related crimes, but it is absolutely vital that we use these powers in a responsible and fair way. "We will continue to look for ways to improve how we carry out stop and search here in Croydon."

SPECIAL REPORT: Youngsters demand proper use of stop and search


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