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Stop and search blamed for riots

Here is what London’s Metropolitan Police say about stop and search:

Being stopped does not mean you are under arrest or have done something wrong. In some cases, people are stopped as part of a wide-ranging effort to catch criminals in a targeted public place.
A police officer, or a community support officer must have a good reason for stopping or searching you and they are required to tell you what that reason is.

Reasons include that the police officer thinks you are carrying drugs, or there has been violence or disorder in the vicinity.

It is safe to say that stop and search is a really bad idea. It is reasonable to expect to be left alone by the authorities when you are going about your lawful business. However:

Of the Reading the Riots interviewees, 73% said they had been stopped and searched in the past 12 months – they were more than eight times more likely than the general population in London to have been stopped and searched in the previous year.

Reading the Riots is a report by the Guardian and the London School of Economics who interviewed 270 rioters to find out why they said they rioted. One could argue that cause and effect are reversed; the rioters are criminals and that is why they get stopped and searched a lot.

Theodore Dalrymple, who I do not think is right about everything but is right about a lot, analyses what he calls the underclass in his book Life at the Bottom. Reading through some of the quotes from rioters in the Guardian, his analysis rings true. The essence of it is that people have decided that bad things just happen to them and it is not their fault. Their view of themselves as victims is reinforced by their social workers who get their ideas from articles in the Guardian.

From the Guardian’s report of the research:

Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice. For some this was economic: the lack of money, jobs or opportunity. For others it was more broadly social: how they felt they were treated compared with others.

This sense of being treated unfairly is exactly the victimhood mind-set. As for jobs, Dalrymple writes:

the unemployed young person considers the number of jobs in an economy as a fixed quantity. Just as the national income is a cake to be doled out in equal or unequal slices, so the number of jobs in an economy has nothing to do with the conduct of the people who live in it but is immutably fixed. This is a concept of the way the world works that has been assiduously peddled, not only in schools during ‘social studies’ but in the media of mass communication.

So stop stopping and searching because it is a good idea anyway, but they will find other excuses to riot.

18 comments to Stop and search blamed for riots

  • The Sage

    I was wryly amused by one of the pieces on the news the morning where a young man described as a looter said his piece — and the substance of his complaint was “The Government leaves us alone.”

    We should be so lucky!

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Being stopped does not mean you are under arrest or have done something wrong.

    If Brit law is like American law, being stopped by the police without the option of leaving is the definition of ‘arrest’.

  • I don’t know about legal definition, PersonFromPorlock, but it’s my definition. I plan to have a lot more to say about this sort of messing around with language, at some point.

  • llamas

    “If Brit law is like American law, being stopped by the police without the option of leaving is the definition of ‘arrest’.”

    Not quite – there is an intermediate state in US law, known as a ‘Terry stop’ after the defining case, where the police can detain you (prevent you from leaving) for certain defined purposes (identification (varies from state to state) and/or a superficial frisk, for weapons only) but you are NOT under arrest.

    Stop-and-search, in the UK, as I understand it, is effectively immediately an arrest, since you are both a) not free to leave and b) if you refuse to answer questions or submit to whatver search the police want to do, you WILL be arrested.



  • Rob,
    Your first post here? Congrats!

    I was stopped and nearly searched fifteen years ago in Nottingham. It was like 4am and I was walking home from my then girlfriend’s house. I was commando because I couldn’t find my underwear and didn’t want to put the light on and disturb her. This worried me. I thought I’d be clocked as a rapist or some-such.

    Now do you want the sad truth? She had an uncomfortable bed and I was at a crucial stage of Civ (Civ I) due to a serious war with the Zulus – Shaka had just nuked Hexham and all hell was about to descend upon Ulundi. I was walking home pre-dawn (it was in the summer) to conduct acts of pixel-genocide. That was why I was on the street and I was stopped merely for being on the street and presumably because the copper was bored witless.

    I also had lectures (I was a student) and needed to get my stuff (notebook and pencil, really) together. But I really did have a desperate need to give the Zulus a good kicking. It was Emperor-level and I was set for a space victory having given the rest of the bastards the very lickings of a dog.

    Yes, I was minding my own business and yes I was narked to be stopped (it was Dunkirk – a high crime area – my mate had recently been burgled by his landlord who stole his Janet Jackson poster – you know the one) so I was worried because I discovered I had a pair of female undergarments in my pocket so if I had been patted down God knows what plod would have thought. Somehow I suspect the simple truth that my gf had cooked me dinner, we’d then gone to the pub for a couple of pints, had sex, I couldn’t sleep and I needed to put to bed a couple of million Zulus and grab my kit for a matrix mechanics lecture wouldn’t wash yet that was the truth of it.

    And yes, it was my mate’s landlord who burgled him. I know this because the dibble phoned him like a week after because they had discovered said poster (and some teabags – they left his computer, stereo and TV!) in another property owned by the same bloke. My mate had to walk into the cop-shop and retrieve his Janet Jackson poster. He left the teabags. They wound-up in the police canteen. Drinking the evidence! No charges were brought.

    Now my wife had stop and search Moscow style which is the militia pointing an AK-47 through the cab window and demanding money (USD preferred) or they will miraculously find drugs on you and that’s 15 years in Russian chokey. A Russian friend of hers was beaten senseless for objecting. They went easier on foreigners. All he’d said was something like, “I saw my best mates blown to hell in Afghanistan and I don’t deserve this shoddy treatment.” They had to collect Sergei from the cells the next day with a first stop back at the dentist. He had “fallen over” – apparently repeatedly.

  • “The police are the public and the public are the police.”
    If you or I were to wander around London stopping people and rifling through their pockets, we’d rightfully be called pickpockets or muggers.
    The police halting or continuing this behaviour is unlikely to make any difference on the liklihood of another riot though.

  • steve

    Reminds me of the decriminalization of marijuana in New York. Basically, as long as the user kept it to themselves (in tiny quantities) the police would leave them alone.

    Except that they didn’t. Public display was still a crime. The police stoped them. Asked them to empty their pockets. If they did, they were now guilty of public display. No sympathy for druggies who followed police orders even when they otherwise followed the law.

    Wouldn’t catch a lawyer of course. The correct response is. “Am I under arrest”. If the answer is no, then refuse to empty your pockets and walk away. If the answer is yes, then say “I want my lawyer” and don’t say another word while following all directions. Even petty lies resulting from a faulty memory can result in an obstruction of justice felony, and refusal to follow a lawful order is also a felony.

    They should have a class in high school that basically covers how not to fall for simple police tricks. Oh wait, I guess that would defeat the purpose of government schooling.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    The welfare state teaches the non-working class that they have a right to get whatever they want for free. The state education system teaches them that idleness and insolence will be endlessly indulged, even if it can’t actually teach them to read. The youth justice system teaches them that they are untouchable and Guardian-reading social workers teach them that nothing is ever their fault. The riots were the graduation ceremony for Mr Attlee’s New Jerusalem Academy, and the students showed everybody just how much they’d learned.

  • Sppon

    Stop and search is the primary Police tactic for knife crime, drug crime, movement of cash invovled in criminality, preparation for terrorism, robbery and firearms offences, just to name the obvious ones. It was brought in to prevent unnecessary arrests by rulling out involvement in a crime on the street instead of in a station. You will notice three quarters of the youths involved in the rioting and who are complaining they get stopped and searched have criminal convictions already.

    Society should have a very serious debate about Police powers and their use. Banning stop and search is the prerogative of a free people and if that is what is the people want, they should get it. But it is imperative that the likely cost in a rise in crime is understood too.

  • Laird

    Does the phrase “probable cause” have any meaning anymore?

  • Slartibartfarst

    Their view of themselves as victims is reinforced by their social workers who get their ideas from articles in the Guardian.

    Hahaha. Second time a Samizdata post has made me smile today. Nicely put, a trifle unkind perhaps, but possibly quite true.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The police need even more “special powers” to be able to determine if someone is carrying out unlawful activity before they stop and search, and by “special powers” I mean x-ray vision or some form of psychic ability.

  • @sppon… at least four of those shouldn’t be offences at all.

  • Eddie Willers

    Nick M – your Moscow story reminded me of how it is here in Mexico, where I am frequently stopped by the ‘Transitos’ (Traffic Police) for “driving whilst white” – foreigners being an easy target for bribes.

    However, as they are all basically cowards (and recently disarmed on orders from the State government) I find the application of loud curses in good, fluent, street Spanish, demands to know why I am being interrogated and, finally, calling their bluff by telling them I will speak to their chief about why they demanded a 5000 peso bribe (when they did no such thing but Chiefy will want his 50% cut, see?) they usually back off, with worried expressions over the big-cojoned gringo who may actually know people who could make BIG TROUBLE for them (not their boss, but his boss’s boss, the narco-gangs).

    Makes me grateful, somedays, to think I am outta’ here in a few months.

  • bloke in spain

    Been there, got the t-shirt…..or in my case the long hair, fringe jacket, tie dye, western boots….. If you go around trying to look like one of the cast of Easy Rider at the back end of the ’60s you will attract grief. I think the record was stopped & searched 3 times the same day.

    My part of London, 2 mile from Tottenham, the generic term for the little angels is ‘spook’. (With the hoodie up it’s difficult to tell if there’s actually anybody in there.) Add the baggy trousers half way down the arse, the gold chains, the unlaced trainers & the rest of it & you have the Noo Yoik gangsta look & the possibility of anything from a bag of weed to an Uzi. Mostly the police don’t stop & search unless they’ve overwhelming superiority in numbers & an escape route. Within a couple of minutes there’ll be a crowd of ‘concerned citizens’ surrounding them.

    Incidentally, there seems to be an idea that the looting was an unusual occurrence. It isn’t. There’s a low level buzz of it going on all the time. Ram raiding of closed shops. Bunch of youths ‘steaming’ a shop. Woman I know had about ten of them hit her business once. Till contents, goods, her own possessions at knife point. Cars trashed & torched. Muggings. Neighbour of ours got stabbed on her doorstep at 8:00am.

    Heavy handed policing? At 9:00pm on a Saturday night, the total police availability for the area covered by Tottenham nick was 2 cars.

    Why’d you think I moved down here?

  • bloke in spain

    Just to add, locally the school going home time on the buses is referred to as ‘Zoo Time’. Try catching one & you’ll understand why.

  • NickM: Yes, my first post. Thanks!

  • llamas

    Runcie Balspune – great handle! What does it say about the way my mind works that I got it the first time?

    Maybe UK readers can correct me, but my understsanding is that stop-and-search in the UK falls under two headings.

    1) Under a ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard for a wide variety of statutory offenses, from poaching to failing to install an energy-efficient ball-cock.
    2) Under a ‘no-specific-suspicion’ standard for a number of statutory powers (‘terrorism’ and some serious crimes) on the authorization of a more-senior police officer. In other words, the police can give themselves the power to stop and search anybody and everybody at will and with no reasonable suspicion of any wrongdoing.

    Do I have that right?



    I bet this gets smit.