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Stop and search powers and dispersal zones imposed to tackle violent crime

Controversial stop and search powers and dispersal zones are being used by police to tackle a surge in violent crime in Southwark.

On Sunday, April 8, Southwark police announced it had obtained a borough-wide Section 60, until 7am on Monday, April 9, “following a violent incident earlier in the day”, giving officers the power to stop and search.

A knife taken off the streets by Southwark police on April 10.

Earlier in the week, seven people across London were stabbed within 24 hours, with one stabbing taking place in Herne Hill on Thursday evening.

The victim, a man in his 40s, did not have life-threatening injuries.

The London met says it is investigating 53 murders since January 1, 2018, including the deaths of two children whose bodies were found in Sussex for which the Met retains primacy of the investigation.

In a statement from the London Met, a spokesperson said: “The Commissioner has been clear that she will support officers if the number of stop and searches increases in the fight against knife crime.

“It is, however just one of a number of powers and tactics used by officers; tactics include centrally led operations, weapons sweeps, targeted test purchasing and plainclothes policing operations to tackle those who choose to carry knives.

“The Commissioner has been clear that she will support officers if the number of stops and searches rises in the fight against knife crime and street violence.

“The use of Section 60 is an important tactic deployed to disrupt and deter, and the recent increase reflects the current climate.

“Where there is a fear of serious violence, authority at Commander-level will be given for a limited time and in a limited space.

“The vast majority of the public support our use of stop and search and we will continue to use every policing power at our disposal to get weapons off the streets.”

The London Met also launched a new violent crime task force, on Saturday, April 7, with “full-time, specially selected, ring-fenced and dedicated police officers, who will solely focus on violent crime, weapon-enabled crime and serious criminality”.

Avril Jones, an independent police advisor and stop and search community lead, based in Southwark, said she was in favour of stop and search when used “respectfully and where appropriate”, but was concerned to hear that dispersal zones had also been recently implemented across Southwark.

She told the News: “Dispersal zones are a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, and are used by the police because they do not have the number of officers or resources they need, on the ground.

“Stop and search orders have to go through the commander, at a top level, but dispersal zones – although still informed by intelligence – can be implemented by local police, more easily.

“The police are using them as a way to move people on and out of a particular vicinity, but the tactic does not engage with people living in these communities.

“It does beg the conversation about why we would want to move people on in the first place – and how this can be used in a way that does not discriminate or cause frustration to already disenfranchised communities.”

The debate comes as new figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that Southwark has lost 60 police officers within a year.

In January this year, Southwark had 665 police officers – compared with 957 in 2010.

From 2017-2018, according to the Liberal Democrats, knife crime and moped-enabled crime increased by half, and muggings were up by a quarter. Both rises are double the London average.

Southwark Police were contacted for comment, but were unable to respond at the time of going to press.


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