British government cracks down on knife crime by extending search powers

Boris Johnson promised extra 10,000 new prison places in UK

FILE PHOTO: A Metropolitan Police representative arranges knives, seized in recent operations, for photographers after a news conference about knife crime, at New Scotland Yard, in central London on May 29, 2008.    REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo
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British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Sunday announced sweeping new measures to give more than 8,000 police officers power to stop and search suspects, as the government tries to crack down on violent crime.

Police in England and Wales can now more easily use a section of its crime act that empowers officers to stop and search anyone in a designated area without needing reasonable grounds for suspicion if serious violence is anticipated.

Knife crime in England and Wales has been on the rise, with 43,516 knife offences in the 12 months to the end of March this year.

That was the highest since comparable records began, and up 80 per cent from the lowest on record — 23,945 in the year ending March 2014.

“We are experiencing a knife crime epidemic and I am determined to put a stop to it," Ms Patel said.

“Police chiefs are clear. Stop and search is a vital tool in combating the scourge of serious violence and keeping people safe.

“Today I am giving them my full support and more police authority to approve stop and search to halt this terrible crime in its tracks."

The introduction will reduce the level of authorisation needed for officers to use and extend the act from senior officers to inspectors and superintendents.

It will lower the degree of certainty required by the authorising officer so they must reasonably believe an incident involving serious violence "may", rather than "will", occur.

Last year almost 7,000 arrests for offensive weapons and 900 arrests for firearms were made after stops and searches.

But there are is contention around the tactic. Critics say giving police more powers to stop and search people without adequate reason is dangerous because there is not enough evidence to show it is effective.

Others say the method could be misused to target people of colour.

To try to address this, the government said that police officers would still be required to record data around stop and search and monitor “its fair and proper use”.

Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to make 10,000 more UK prison places available.

Since taking office, Mr Johnson has also promised to add another 20,000 police officers to Britain's streets.

The government has not said how it will fund these promises and some observers are sceptical, seeing the measures as the ruling Conservative party trying to set the tone for a snap general election this year.