More stop and searches 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

According to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act, Norfolk police used controversial stop-and-search powers 11,728 times during the last financial year compared to 7,588 in 2003-04.

The figures also show that far more men are stopped: they account for almost 90pc of incidents last year and 22pc were men under the age of 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.

Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, obtained the information.

He said: "Stop-and-search can be an important part of police activities when the use of these powers is based on intelligence. While there has been a considerable 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."

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The news comes at a time when stop-and-search powers have been attacked on several fronts. Many believe powers under the terrorism act are being used to unfairly target ordinary photographers while a recent study showed public order powers have had little impact on issues like knife crime.

Norfolk police refused to confirm how many searches were carried out under terrorism laws and how many were carried out under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

A spokesman said beat supervisors regularly checked stop-and-search incidents to ensure they were carried out 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.

"While data show stops recorded relating to a small number 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.

"There is less disproportionality in ethnic minority stop-and-searches in Norfolk and it is lower than the national average due to a change in demographics over the last 10 years."